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Violence and Sociality in Human Evolution [and Comments and Replies] 

Author(s): Bruce M. Knauft, Thomas S. Abler, Laura Betzig, Christopher Boehm, Robert Knox 

Dentan, Thomas M. Kiefer, Keith F. Otterbein, Tohn Paddock, Lars Rodseth 

Source: Current Anthropology, Vol. 32, No. 4 (Aug. - Oct., 1991), pp. 391-428 

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Current Anthropology Volume 32, Number 4, August-October 1991 

© 1991 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved ooii-3204/9i/3204-ooo2$2.50 

Violence and 
Sociality in Human 

by Bruce M. Knauft 

Patterns of violence and sociality found among simple human 
societies are compared and contrasted with those documented 
among the four great-ape species and among more complex 
prestate human societies. An evolutionary scenario is developed 
by assessing comparative trends with respect to food/resource 
sharing, dominance structure, male competition for sexual access 
to females, violence and intergroup competition, and overall pat- 
terns of violence and sociality. Simple human societies contrast 
with both great-ape and middle-range human societies in exhib- 
iting a relative absence of competitive male dominance hierar- 
chies and of systematic violence between closed social groups, 
while being more egalitarian among adult males politically, sex- 
ually, and in terms of resource sharing. A U-shaped evolutionary 
trajectory of selected features of human violence is proposed, 
with the trough of the curve persisting throughout most of 
Homo sapiens evolution. Simple human societies constitute a 
major anomaly for models which propose evolutionary similarity 
between great-ape and prestate human patterns of violence and 
suggest a view of human evolution that takes seriously the 
group-selection potential of symbolic transmission. It is sug- 
gested that more consideration be given to cultural capacities in 
interaction with ecological constraints and biogenetic selection 
in studying the evolution of human sociality and violence. 

BRUCE M. KNAUFT is Associatc Profcssor of Anthropology at Em- 
ory University (Atlanta, Ga. 30322, U.S.A.) and during 1991-92 a 
Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sci- 
ences (202 Junipero Serra Blvd., Stanford, Calif. 94305, U.S.A.). 
Born in 1954, he was educated at Yale University (B.A., 1976) 
and the University of Michigan (Ph.D., 1983). Among his re- 
search interests are the evolution of violence, practice theory, 
Melanesian ethnography, sorcery, spirit mediumship, sexuality, 
and the comparative study of simple societies. He has published 
Good Company and Violence: Sorcery and Social Action in a 
Lowland New Guinea Society (Berkeley: University of California 
Press, 1985), "Ritual Form and Permutation in New Guinea" 
{American Ethnologist 12:321-40), "Text and Social Practice" 
{Ethos 14:252-81), "Homosexuality in Melanesia" {Journal of 
Psychoanalytic Anthropology 10:155-91), "Melanesian Warfare" 
{Oceania 60:250-311), "Divergence between Cultural Success 
and Reproductive Fitness in Preindus trial Cities" {Cultural An- 
thropology 2:94-114), and "Reconsidering Violence in Simple 
Human Societies" (current anthropology 28:457-500). The 
present paper was submitted in final form i iii 91. 

I . Financial support for the research upon which this study is based 
from The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation is gratefully ac- 
knowledged. Supportive comments and critical suggestions were 
offered by Robert Carneiro, Jeremy Dahl, Arthur Demarest, Frans 
de Waal, Johann Galtung, Thomas Gregor, Robert Paul, Marc Ross, 
Bradd Shore, E. O. Smith, and Donald Tuzin; shortcomings remain 
my own. Previous versions of this paper were presented at the 1987 
annual meeting of the American Political Science Association and 
at a 1990 H. F. Guggenheim conference in Charleston, S.C. 

In simple human societies, lethal violence may be high 
in aggregate statistical terms, but the pervasive ethos is 
one of active cooperative affiliation among diverse 
groups of relatives and nonrelatives (Knauft 1987a). The 
cultural norms of sociality in these societies seem to be 
both strong and prone to lethal contravention within the 
local group. The violence that does occur has relatively 
little to do with territorial rights, property, ritual status, 
or male leadership concerns and is based more on con- 
sensually approved status leveling among men than on 
status elevation. Rather than being valued or associated 
with kin-group or ethnic oppositions, violence emerges 
sporadically among local cooperative groups, especially 
as a social-control mechanism or as an expression — 
commonly displaced — of male sexual frustration. Such 
incidents are relatively uncontrolled and likely to result 
in homicide. 

This pattern of violence and sociality contrasts in very 
broad terms with that found in more complex prestate 
societies. In these ''middle-range'' societies, including 
complex hunter-gatherers and what used to be called 
''tribes'' and "chiefdoms" (Price and Brown 1985, Fein- 
man and Neitzel 1984, Upham 1990a, Fried 1975,- cf. 
Service 1971, Sahlins 1968, Carneiro 1981), sedentism, 
property ownership, and male status differentiation are 
more developed, and conflict tends to arise from overt 
and chronic political status competition, both within 
and between groups, and from competition over access 
to resources. In contrast to that in simpler human 
groups, violence in middle-range societies tends to be 
valued as a dimension of masculinity, frequently takes 
the form of collective reciprocating conflict (i.e., war- 
fare), and is often linked with fraternal interest groups, 
social boundedness, and ethnocentrism. In the evolu- 
tion of Homo sapiens sapiens, it is likely, as Gell- 
ner (1989:521) suggests, that coercion and violence as 
systematic means of organizational constraint devel- 
oped especially with the increasing socioeconomic com- 
plexity and potential for political hierarchy afforded by 
substantial stored food surplus and food production (see 
Testart 1982). 

Given these trends, the causes of severe violence com- 
monly adduced for middle-range societies — political sta- 
tus competition, resource or population pressure, terri- 
torial disputes, and the existence of fraternal interest 
groups — are less effective in explaining patterns of vio- 
lence in simpler human societies (Knauft 1987a; con- 
trast Otterbein 1968, Otterbein and Otterbein 1965, 
Thoden van Velzen and van Wetering 1960; cf. Ross 
1985, 1986; Price 1984). At the same time, sociobiologi- 
cal explanations of violence emphasizing the impor- 
tance of male sexual competition for reproductive suc- 
cess have difficulty explaining the extreme political and 
sexual egalitarianism among men in simple societies 
(see Leacock and Lee 1982; contrast Chagnon 1988; cf. 
Knauft 1987a). This raises an important larger question: 
what is the overall trajectory of violence and sociality 
in human evolution? 

To begin answering this question, a broad comparison 
of great-ape and human societies is here conducted with 


39^ I CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Voluuie 32, Nuuiber 4, August- October 1991 

regard to food/resource sharing, dominance structure, 
male competition for sexual access to females, violence 
and intergroup competition, and overall patterns of vio- 
lence and sociality. Theoretical assessments and ele- 
ments of an evolutionary scenario are developed in the 
course of data presentation and analysis. 

Qualitative contrasts between simple and more com- 
plex prestate human societies raise a host of defini- 
tional and methodological questions (Knauft 1990a; 
i987a.-478-79, 481-82,- Woodburn 1980, 1982; Testart 
1985; Feinman and Neitzel 1984). For present purposes, 
''simple human societies'' are societies that lack recog- 
nizable leadership roles and status differentials among 
adult men. Egalitarianism tends to be pervasive in such 
societies. This pattern is characteristic of many no- 
madic foraging societies and a very few forager- 
horticulturalists. In contrast, ''complex'' hunter- 
gatherer societies, particularly those with sedentary 
residence and/or rich resources, may exhibit elaborate 
economic and political status-differentiation systems, 
including rank distinctions and chiefs (e.g.. Price and 
Brown 1985; Carneiro 1981:49). In evolutionary terms, 
complex hunter-gatherer societies were most common 
after 12,500 b.p., usually transitional between simple 
hunter-gathering and agricultural systems, and of rela- 
tively short prehistoric duration, usually no more than 
two to three millennia (Henry 1985:366).^ A very few 
migratory foragers, particularly Australian Aboriginal 
societies, recognized political inequality among men on 
the basis of ritual grade and age distinctions associated, 
as Woodburn (1980) has suggested, with distinctive pat- 
terns of delayed-return reciprocity.^ 

As Netting (1990) has recently noted, the development 
of nonegalitarian political organization in cultural evo- 
lution is not a determinate function of ecological and 
demographic factors. Correspondingly, the core dimen- 

2. Complex hunter-gatherer adaptations were present in selected 
areas of Europe during the Upper Paleolithic (e.g., Mellars 1985) 
and common during the Mesolithic (e.g., Zvelebil 1986; Bailey 
1983: chaps. 8 and 9; Price and Brown 1985). Evidence of such com- 
plexity in the Middle East dates to 14,000-10,000 b.p. in the Levant 
Natufian (Henry 1985), and there is an exceptional case from the 
central Russian Plain as early as 26,000 b.p. (Soffer 1985, McBurney 
1976). Some complex hunter-gatherer formations survived and/or 
developed during the contemporary historical period, among them 
Northwest Coast fishing adaptations and Great Plains domes- 
ticated-animal adaptations (the latter not involving sedentism but 
potentiating competitive property rights and material status differ- 

3. Pronounced adult male status differentiation, polygyny, a greater 
incidence of domestic and intergroup fighting, and a more devel- 
oped sense of ethnic territorial identity (e.g., based on totemic/ 
ritual identification) were as a broad cluster incipient among Aus- 
tralian Aboriginal cultures but rare among nonintensive hunter- 
gatherers elsewhere. In the Australian context, raiding and warfare 
were most developed among the complex hunter-gatherers who 
inhabited resource-rich coastal areas (e.g., in Arnhem Land [e.g., 
Warner 1930, 1969 (1937); Hiatt 1965; Bemdt 1965) and among the 
Tiwi [Hart and Pilling i960)). Reciprocal raiding and warfare were 
much less developed in arid central Australia (e.g., among the 
Walbiri [Meggitt 1962) and the Aranda [Strehlow 1947, 1965)) and 
extremely arid western Australia (e.g., among the Pintupi [Myers 
1986; cf. Hamilton 1982)). 

sions of ''simple societies'' are sociopolitical and not 
completely reducible to factors of subsistence or popula- 
tion density (Layton 1986, Ingold 1987, Woodburn 1980). 
It is, however, worthwhile to note ecological, economic, 
and demographic characteristics that are seldom found 
in association with simple societies as here defined: pop- 
ulation densities greater than 2-3 per km^, year-round 
residence at a single site, pronounced food storage (Tes- 
tart 1982), substantial delayed-return reciprocity sys- 
tems (Woodburn 1980, 1982, 1988), substantial material 
wealth, and intensive reliance upon domesticated ani- 
mals or fishing."^ 

These exclusions focus consideration on the ethno- 
graphically documented societies that are more likely to 
be representative of social dynamics among humans in 
the period before complex and semisedentary hunter- 
gatherer societies began to become prominent. These are 
smaller and more decentralized human groups than have 
been considered in most previous comparative assess- 
ments of prestate or hunter-gatherer violence and social- 
ity (e.g.. Ember 1978, Ferguson 1984a, Otterbein 1968, 
Otterbein and Otterbein 1965, Haas 1990; see also Man- 
son and Wrangham 1991; cf. Wrangham 1987). 

The use of known ethnographic patterns to infer evo- 
lutionary trajectories is of course fraught with problems 
(see critiques by Schrire 1984; Headland and Reid 1989; 
Leacock and Lee 1982: pts. 2 and 3,- Wobst 1978; Lewin 
1988; Foley 1988:220; Myers 1988), and the number of 
well-documented simple societies is relatively small. If 
carefully undertaken, however, such an enterprise can 
be a useful point of departure for further, more empiri- 
cally sophisticated comparative research. Indeed, careful 
articulation of ethnographic with prehistoric research is 
indispensable to the development of a penetrating view 
of human sociocultural development (e.g., O'Connell, 
Hawkes, and Blurton Jones 1988a, b; see Foley and Lee 
1989). Ethnographically studied simple societies are not 
here equated with prehistoric ones or great apes with 
our hominoid ancestors. Rather, it is suggested that the 
striking differences among these more contemporary 
congeries of social systems may have analogies in earlier 
phases of human evolution. 

It would be a mistake to write off our best data about 
simple societies as a function of Western state encroach- 
ment and projection (see Solway and Lee 1990, Wood- 
burn 1988; contrast Wilmsen 1989). If anything, the his- 
torical changes that have impacted hunter-gatherers in 
this century have served to reduce rather than artifi- 

4. In the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample, societies with significant 
evidence of class stratification or wealth distinctions as tabulated 
by Murdock (1981:101-2, col. 67) cannot be considered "simple." 
Also excluded are intense riverine/coastal adaptations, which oc- 
curred relatively late in human evolutionary history and frequently 
supported extensive sedentary populations, food storage, and/or so- 
ciopolitical hierarchies. High hunter-gatherer dependence on fish- 
ing is correlated with such class stratification (x^ = 8.226, d.f. = 
I, p < .01). As might have been expected from Ross's (1985:554; 
1986) finding that socioeconomic complexity and external warfare 
CO vary, there is also a positive (though not statistically significant) 
correlation between warfare frequency and fishing dependence 
among hunter-gatherers (cf. Ember 1978). 

KNAUFT Violence and Sociality in Human Evolution \ 393 

cially increase the distinctiveness of these societies. 
Leadership and residential centralization, individualistic 
property ownership, and status competition tend to in- 
crease as foragers are impacted by the trade networks 
and political status differentiation of horticultural and 
state societies (e.g., Cashdan 1980, 1983, 1986; Hitch- 
cock 1987; Kent 1989; Knauft 1990a; cf. the classic anal- 
ysis by Murphy and Steward 1955). At the same time, 
decentralized leadership, diffuse and flexible interband 
alliance, generalized reciprocity, and adult male status 
equality tend on the whole to be more common in more 
autonomous and more decentralized foragers (e.g., 
Mbuti net-hunters versus Mbuti archers, !Kung San ver- 
sus Basarwa [Cashdan 1980, 1986]). In terms of develop- 
mental trajectories, then, the distinctive features of sim- 
ple societies are unlikely to have been a function of 
contemporary developments (see Woodburn 1988). 

Food/Resource Sharing 

One key common feature in many scenarios of human 
evolution is the regular sharing of food and other re- 
sources among adults and by adults with children (e.g., 
Tooby and DeVore 1987; Isaac 1978; Lovejoy 1981, 
1982; Foley 1989; Foley and Lee 1989:905; Tanner 1987; 
cf. Hill 1982, Foley 1982). Such social investment of re- 
sources is consistent with highly altricial and late- 
maturing offspring and a distinctive sexual division of 
labor.^ As described by Foley (1984:99-103,- 1987; 1989,- 
Foley and Lee 1989) and Kurland and Beckerman (1985), 
the conditions faced by hominids in savanna environ- 
ments included patchy resource distribution and the 
need for complex and flexible foraging strategies, a broad 
dietary niche, high mobility, and protection against 
predators. Divergent interpretations proliferate concern- 
ing subsistence patterns and social organization in hu- 
man evolution, for example, concerning the importance 
of hunting and carnivory versus scavenging (e.g., Isaac 
1984; Potts 1987, 1988; Shipman 1983, 1986; Tanner 
1987; Binford 198 1, 1983, 1989). Hyperscepticism aside, 
it remains quite likely, at least for Homo, that coopera- 
tive strategies including significant reliance on hunt- 
ing were pronounced over a significant portion of hu- 
man evolutionary history (e.g.. Hill 1982; O'Connell, 
Hawkes, and Blurton Jones 1988a, b; Foley 1982; Ni- 
tecki and Nitecki 1987). Isaac's (1978) scenario of band 
dispersal and reaggregation for protection and the shar- 
ing of food and information, while unlikely to be appli- 
cable to all hominids, is likely to remain important for 

5 . Frequent separation of males from their mates — entailed by dis- 
persed food resources and the sexual division of labor — offers the 
opportunity for sexual cheating and presents a threat to paternity 
certainty. Under such conditions, a man risks "wasting" his paren- 
tal investment on someone else's offspring even if he limits his 
provisioning to his mate's children. How intensive male provi- 
sioning could have evolved under conditions of sex-biased diurnal 
dispersal is thus a key question for many models of hominid be- 

an evolutionary understanding of H. sapiens and possi- 
bly Homo in general. 

In all ethnographically known simple societies, coop- 
erative sharing of provisions is extended to mates, off- 
spring, and many others within the band. Communal 
sharing of food, especially of prized food items such as 
meat, is highly developed and indeed crucial, serving, 
among other things, as a collective means of ecological 
risk reduction (Cashdan 1980, 1985; cf. 1990; Smith 
1988). This sharing takes place well outside the range of 
immediate kin, viz., among the diverse array of kin and 
nonkin who constitute the typical residence group of 
25 -f- persons.^ Archeological evidence suggests that 
widespread networks facilitating diffuse access to and 
transfer of resources and information have been pro- 
nounced at least since the Upper Paleolithic (Gamble 
1982; 1983; 1986:322-42; Whallon 1989). 

Ethnographers of simple societies have consistently 
emphasized the social and cultural as well as ecological 
importance of sharing; diffuse distribution of major food 
items (and other articles of value) is a prominent if not 
preeminent cultural value (e.g., [!Kung] Marshall 1979, 
Wiessner 1982; [Mbuti] Turnbull 1 961, 1965a, b; [Mbuti 
archers/spearmen] Harako 1976:76-79; [Inuit] Balikci 
i97o:chaps. 5 and 6; Guemple 1972; Damas 1984; 
[Guayaki/Ache] Clastres 1972, Kaplan and Hill 1985a, 
Kaplan et al. 1984). The functional significance of meat 
sharing is obvious: game is seldom a dependable single- 
family resource and yet is in some form a crucial dietary 
component in virtually all simple societies (see Eaton 
and Konner 1985, Hill 1982). Given that game is often 
procured in large units but only sporadically obtained 
by a given hunter, sharing effectively increases average 
daily food consumption (see Kaplan and Hill 1985a). 
Marshall (1979:363, 357) writes, 'The !Kung are quite 
conscious of the value of meat-sharing and they talk 
about it, especially about the benefit of the mutual obli- 
gation it entails. The idea of sharing is deeply implanted 
and very successfully imposes its restraints. . . . The idea 
of eating alone is shocking to the !Kung. It makes them 
shriek with an uneasy laughter. Lions could do that, 
they say, not men.'' Testart (1985, 1987) has docu- 
mented in detail the variations of food sharing among 
hunter-gatherers worldwide. Food sharing in simple so- 
cieties is both an index of cooperation and a key symbol 
of what it is to be human.- More generally, an ethic of 
communalism and equal access to resource production 
is highly developed (e.g., Ingold 1988:277-85; Lee 1988, 
1990; Leacock and Lee 1982). 

A more complex and in some ways different ethic 
emerges increasingly in middle-range human socie- 
ties — food-storing and sedentary foragers, horticultur- 

6. The early generalizations of Lee and DeVore (1984 [1968)) con- 
cerning residential flexibility and bilateral group cooperation 
among hunter-gatherers remain more applicable to simple societies 
than to the much broader sample of all hunter-gatherers (contrast 
Ember 1978); see, for example, [Mbuti] Turnbull (1965(3, b, 1984), 
[Hadza] Woodburn (1972, 1984), [IKung] Lee (i979i>:chaps. 5 and 
6), and [Eskimo] Balikci (i97o:chaps. 3-6), Damas (1984), and 
Guemple (1972). 

394 I c 

URRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Voluuie ^2, Numbei 4, August-Octobei 1991 

alists, prestate ranked societies, and chiefdoms. Though 
the range of variation is enormous, group size and popu- 
lation density tend to increase, and the individual's so- 
cial universe becomes more differentiated (e.g., Johnson 
and Earle 1987: chaps. 5-13; Upham 1990b; Carneiro 
1981; Testart 1982; Haas 1990). There is increasing con- 
centration and investment of labor in long-term land 
and domesticated-animal resources, residential struc- 
tures, and material artifacts. Correspondingly, there is 
increased benefit in forcefully defending domesticated 
resources and property — and in forcefully obtaining 
them from other groups — while the costs of defending 
them decrease. Extradomestic spheres of resource alloca- 
tion become much more clearly defined. Plog (1990:193) 
points to ''the development of a more restricted form 
of sharing, producing a smaller, more formalized social 
group composed of a limited number of households.'' As 
Sahlins (1972) might put it, spheres of domestic general- 
ized exchange and reciprocity are increasingly circum- 
scribed and complemented by those of balanced and neg- 
ative reciprocity between larger and opposed social 
units. Even the giving of large gifts and the establish- 
ment of alliances (Braun and Plog 1982) commonly take 
on an aura of political competition, if not outright ag- 
gression (Mauss 1970). Moreover, reciprocation of non- 
giving and antagonism becomes institutionalized among 
larger and better-defined groups of people. In short, clan 
and ethnic self-interest, competition, and interrelation- 
ship all become elaborated and developed, creating ''in- 
creased potential for social conflict" and leading to "the 
evolution of a group ideology consistent with increased 
territoriality" (Plog 1990:193). 

This is not to neglect the importance of intergroup 
exchange and alliance in small-scale sedentary societies 
(Braun and Plog 1982), nor is it to suggest that personal 
or group self-interest, possessiveness, or dispute is ab- 
sent in simpler ones. In simple societies, however, the 
development of exclusive social identity and ethnocen- 
trism tend to be opposed rather than cultivated and rein- 
forced by deep-seated cultural norms and values. Norms 
of generalized and diffuse reciprocity are culturally and 
behaviorally foregrounded. This cultural emphasis is 
particularly viable for demographic and ecological rea- 
sons, since awareness of and confrontation with persons 
beyond the sphere of social cooperation are limited. In 
complex hunter-gatherers and small-scale sedentary so- 
cieties, in contrast, negative reciprocity and violence 
tend to be valued as an important dimension of in- 
tergroup relationships. 

Resource sharing in simple societies also contrasts in 
significant ways with the patterns found among our 
closest nonhuman relatives, the great apes (Pongidae) — 
chimpanzee, bonobo or pygmy chimpanzee, gorilla, and 
orangutan. The main sharable material resource among 
these nonhuman primates is food. Foliage and fruit are 
infrequently shared, except by mothers with their in- 
fants. Gorillas eat predominantly foliage (86%) and con- 
sume virtually no prey (Jolly 1985:47). Even gorilla in- 
fants have never been seen being given solid food by 
their mothers (Fossey 1979:167). Orangutan resource 

sharing is also minimal (cf. Edwards and Snowdon 1980). 
Large ground-foraging orangutan males have on rare oc- 
casions been known to carry termite-infested logs into 
trees to share with female consorts (Jolly 1985:450). 
There is apparently only one report of orangutan meat 
eating, and this was carried out in a strikingly individu- 
alistic manner (Sugardjito and Nurhuda 1981).^ 

Common chimpanzees share vegetable resources and 
fruit more actively than orangutans and gorillas, but the 
vast majority of this sharing is between mother and in- 
fant (Hiraiwa-Hasegawa 1990, Nishida 1970, McGrew 
1979b). Chimpanzees are distinctive among apes for 
their hunting; an estimated 10% of the time spent feed- 
ing is devoted to mammalian predation (Teleki 
1981:327), which is often cooperative among several 
individuals, especially males (Goodall 1968; 1971; 
i986:chap. ii; see also Boesch and Boesch 1989). Meat 
consumption among Gombe chimpanzees is estimated 
to average 27 g per individual per day, this being about 
one-tenth the per capita meat intake of IKung San (Tel- 
eki 1981:327). The degree to which chimpanzees will- 
ingly share meat with each other has been a matter of 
some contention (Teleki 1973,- McGrew i979b;453-57; 
Wrangham 1975). On balance, however, there is distinct 
competition and possessiveness in meat "sharing," as 
is illustrated in GoodalPs (1986:299-300) compendium 
volume on Gombe chimpanzees: 

Meat is a highly coveted food and often there is in- 
tense aggressive competition around a kill. This ag- 
gression comprises [a] attacks on possessors of meat 
by those who have none, {b) attacks or, more usu- 
ally, displays or threats by possessors toward the in- 
dividuals trying to share their prey, (c) attacks or 
threats directed by those who have not managed to 
acquire portions toward lower-ranking individuals 
who are also trying to get some meat. Wrangham 
(1975) .. . found that of the twenty attacks made on 
individuals in possession of meat, the aggressor was 
successful only three times. ... As Wrangham has 
pointed out, an individual in possession of meat is 
usually well able to defend it by crouching over it 
and protecting it with arms and body (much as a 
mother protects her infant when under attack). 
Moreover, the possessor is usually highly motivated 
to retain his prize. Even a low-ranking male may 
hold onto his prey in the face of intense aggression. 

Chimpanzees who successfully hunt game alone also 
consume it alone unless discovered. Further, "an adoles- 
cent or low-ranking captor, or a female, is likely to lose 
possession of the carcass within moments of capture" 
(Goodall 1986:299). 

Nonetheless, as McGrew (1979a) and de Waal (1989a) 
have suggested, there are some ways in which chimpan- 

7. As Jolly (1985:62) describes the incident, "A female [orangutan) 
completely consumed the carcass of an infant gibbon, taking 137 
minutes to do so. (She may have found the gibbon dead, because 
there was no blood.) An adult male she was consorting with stared 
at her fixedly for the first hour, but she did not share with him — an 
index of the antisocial habits of female orangs." 

KNAUFT Violence and Sociality in Human Evolution \ 395 

zees are preadapted to the food-sharing behavior found 
in simple human societies. Dominant adult males in 
particular may share food to reduce social conflict, since 
such conflict can involve loss of the food item to a 
scramble of others, injury, and/or disruption of impor- 
tant male-male coalitions upon which male status fre- 
quently depends. Recent experiments with captive 
chimpanzees by de Waal (1989a) suggest that turn taking 
in the exchange of social favors prevents one-sided accu- 
mulation of benefits and that individuals who are reluc- 
tant to share have a higher probability of encountering 
aggression. Further, there is some tendency among 
chimpanzees to suspend dominance relations and intro- 
duce turn taking in reciprocating grooming for access to 
food — at least under experimental conditions when the 
concentrated food is only moderately attractive and 
given to a single-male group. Even in free-ranging condi- 
tions, food sharing does not always occur along lines 
predicted by the dominance hierarchy (Nishida 1990:28; 
Takahata, Hasegawa, and Nishida 1984). 

Sharing of floral resources is more common and toler- 
ated among bonobos (see Furuichi 1989; Kuroda 1984; 
Kano 1983, 1990; Badrian and Badrian 1984; Badrian and 
Malenky 1984). Vegetable food is commonly shared be- 
tween males and females, ''and there are descriptions of 
females clambering onto the shoulders of males to reach 
overhead delicacies'' (Goodall 1986:485). However, ago- 
nistic encounters remain most frequent ''during feeding, 
directed from a high-ranking male to lower-ranking 
male'' (Susman 1987:79). Though mammalian predation 
appears much less frequent than among common chim- 
panzees, forest bonobos do kill and share faunal re- 
sources. Males' sharing of meat with females often in- 
volves or leads to copulation, females being "allowed to 
take parts of the carcass after copulating with the male 
possessors." The distinctive genito-genital rubbing that 
takes place between female bonobos is also frequently 
observed during food sharing and has been interpreted 
as a tension-reducing as well as a food-solicitation 
mechanism in this context (Kuroda 1980, Thompson- 
Handler, Malenky, and Badrian 1984, Kano 1984a, de 
Waal 1987). 

Even among bonobos, however, possessors of food 
(except for mothers vis-a-vis their infants [Kuroda 
1984:312]) never approach those without it. When in the 
presence of others, bonobos possessing food shared it on 
their own initiative less than 1% of the time (p. 317). 
Food sharing — perhaps more accurately termed "food 
transfer" — occurred particularly through active begging 
as part of a "food taking bout." Bonobo food transfer 
of prized fruit items parallels the common-chimpanzee 
transfers of meat described above (Kuroda 1984:303-4), 
and Kuroda notes (p. 306) that allowing others to share 
in a plentiful food source is perhaps better described as 
"co-feeding" than as "sharing." 

In general, it appears that great apes do not willingly 
share food, especially scarce food, with conspecifics 
(other than offspring). Bonobos constitute a partial ex- 
ception. Common chimpanzees may be preadapted to 
food- sharing behavior through elaborate communication 

concerning food, begging, tolerance of scrounging, and 
ability to mitigate competitive behavior in the context 
of collective eating. As Itani (1988) suggests, this may 
represent an incipient ability to develop the more egali- 
tarian sharing relationships found in simple human soci- 
eties. There remains, however, a significant qualitative 
difference between food transfer among free-ranging 
great apes and the rule-governed sharing of food and 
other valuable resources in simple human societies. The 
strong internalization of a sharing ethic is in many re- 
spects the sine qua non of culture in these societies (see 
also Ingold 1987:114). 

Dominance Structure 

Perhaps the most striking thing about simple human 
societies is how decentralized they are. Instead of indi- 
viduals' striving to be "first among equals," aggressively 
assertive, or powerful — striving to be big-men — there 
tends to be active and assiduous devaluation of adult 
male status differentiation and minimization or de- 
nial of those asymmetries of ability that exist. Self- 
aggrandizing behavior is disparaged and open coercion 
considered highly improper (see [!Kung] Draper 1978; 
Marshall 1976; Lee 1979b, 1982; [Inuit] Briggs 1970, 
1978; [Mbuti] Turnbull 1961, 1965a, b, 1978; [Semai] 
Dentan 1978, 1979; Robarchek 1977,- Robarchek and 
Dentan 1987; [Hadza] Woodburn 1979). Leadership is ru- 
dimentary and uninstitutionalized, and political life is 
communal. Patriarchy and elders' authority are mini- 
mal, and leadership is itself rarely a matter of assertion, 
dispute, or competition. Decisions are most frequently 
reached through casual consensus, in which no man has 
authority over another. Major collective enterprises tend 
to emerge spontaneously as the result of myriad fluid 
conversations that mix stories, banter, fantasies, and 
plans. As Ingold (1987: chap. 9) points out, politics in 
simple societies maintains a fine balance between indi- 
vidual autonomy and the collective appropriation of 

Among complex hunter-gatherers and with the advent 
of sedentism and horticulture/agriculture, male status 
differentiation increases (see archeological evidence in 
Price and Brown 1985, Zvelebil 1986, Bailey 1983; see 
Price 1984). Though the range of variation is enormous 
and the dynamics complex (e.g., Feinman and Neitzel 
1984), the progressive development of overt status differ- 
entiation and competitive leadership is apt to be influ- 
enced by the functional requisites of coordinated action 
among larger social groups in sedentary societies (e.g., 
Upham 1990a). Property and possessions increase with 
sedentisni, and the potential for material wealth differ- 
entials also increases (Johnson and Earle 1987). Opportu- 
nities increase for selective control of the flow of infor- 
mation and material resources and the development of 
social inequality (Bender 1990). For both political and 
economic reasons, competition over access to positions 
of control intensifies, and various forms of leadership 
and status hierarchy emerge: gerontocracy, ritual elder- 

396 I CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Voluuie 32, Number 4, August- October 1991 

ship, pronounced age-grading, headmen, war leaders, 
priests, big-men, and chiefs. Such status distinctions be- 
come progressively formalized in the evolution of politi- 
cal society prior to the rise of the state (e.g.. Fried 1967). 
With increasing socioeconomic complexity and hierar- 
chy, administrative control and organization become 
crucial, along with unequal control of the means of pro- 
duction (e.g., Claessen and Skalnik 1978, Friedman and 
Rowlands 1978). In lieu of more nuanced description, it 
may be said that actively competitive male leadership 
hierarchies have been common in human political evo- 
lution since the advent of complex hunter-gatherers and 
sedentary societies. 

All of the great apes have male dominance hierarchies 
(Wrangham 1987). This pattern is thrown into relief by 
the relative lack of dominance hierarchies among great- 
ape females (de Waal 1986). Male dominance over fe- 
males is the norm, and with the notable exception of 
bonobos (F. White 1989, Furuichi 1989) males are the 
focal points of great-ape group cohesion. 

Gorilla group structure is dominated by a single adult 
male (Jolly 1985:132). Between 64% and 77% of gorilla 
groups have but a single silverback (Harcourt, Fossey, 
and Pi Sabater 1981), and the silverback is the focus of 
a cohesive and long-lasting group of females, juveniles, 
and, to a lesser extent, subadult males (blackbacks) 
(Schaller 1976, Fossey 1983). As Harcourt (1979:189) 

In groups in which there was more than one sil- 
verback, one (the oldest) was clearly the leader, and 
the other(s) occupied peripheral positions. The lead- 
ing silverbacks were the protectors of the group,- it 
was they who most frequently stopped intragroup 
fights; it was they who most frequently controlled 
the timing and direction of group movement; and it 
was the leading silverbacks around whom most ani- 
mals most often congregated, even when the groups 
were undisturbed. Only silverbacks, not blackbacks, 
were seen to mate with primiparous and multipa- 
rous females. 

Among orangutans, there is also clear domination of 
younger males and females in consort by full adult 
males, though there is no bounded social group over 
which such males preside. Adult orangutan males are 
characterized (MacKinnon 1979:265) ''by the full devel- 
opment of secondary sexual adornments including long 
hair and beards, full throat pouches, high fatty crowns, 
expanded cheek flanges, and large size. These animals 
indulge in loud, long-range calling, defending range 
boundaries against other males.'' 

Chimpanzee males exhibit several clearly distinguish- 
able dominance levels, including alpha, high, middle, 
and low (Takahata 1990^, Bygott 1979). Dominance is 
established ultimately through aggressive displays, en- 
counters, and fights. Longitudinal studies of rank (Taka- 
hata 1990^; Bygott 1979; Goodall i986:chap. 16) docu- 
ment a variety of strategies for intimidating opponents 
and gaining status. Particularly distinctive are chimpan- 
zee male-male coalitions to challenge the dominance of 

higher-ups, especially the alpha male (see also Takahata 
1990b, Kawanaka 1990, de Waal 1982). In contrast to 
those of many monkey species, chimpanzee adult males 
rarely if ever transfer out of their home groups, even 
when dethroned; transfers are limited to females and 
their offspring (Nishida 1979; Goodall et al. 1979; Good- 
all 1986:489). Though normal assertions of dominance 
are responded to with pant-grunting or displacement and 
other encounters may result in aggressive display and/or 
chasing, genuine challenges at the top of the hierarchy 
frequently result in severe wounds and permanent injur- 
ies. Death from such wounds within free-ranging chim- 
panzee groups is strongly suspected in several cases 
(when the wounded male disappeared abruptly and was 
never found) and has been documented definitively 
among a large captive group of chimpanzees (de Waal 
1982; i989b:chap. 2). 

Male dominance hierarchies exist among bonobos, but 
there is a lower incidence of male-male affiliative and 
agonistic behavior, and male-male coalitions apparently 
do not occur (Kano 1990, Badrian and Badrian 1984, Fu- 
ruichi 1989, F. White 1990). In contrast to that of com- 
mon chimpanzees, bonobo social organization can be 
considered "female-based," with "strong affiliation 
among females and between males and females, but not 
among males" (F. White 1989:204; see also Furuichi 
1989). This pattern poses a significant anomaly for Pan- 
based models of male-collective intergroup aggression 
in hominid evolution. Bonobos form quasi-stable sub- 
groups within a cohesive troop with a shared home 
range. Males rarely if ever transfer out of this larger 
group. Patterns of bonobo aggression may be quite pro- 
nounced (de Waal i989b:22i): 

Although the remarkable gentleness of the bonobo 
species has been noticed by other investigators, we 
should also realize that, until a decade ago, the same 
opinion prevailed with regard to gorillas and chim- 
panzees. Now we know better. Recently, Takayoshi 
Kano [1984b] published a rather shocking report on 
physical abnormalities in free-living bonobos. An as- 
tonishing number of them lack fingers, toes, even 
entire hands. Two-thirds of the males and one-third 
of the females show limb abnormalities. . . . The 
higher incidence of missing or deformed body parts 
among males, especially adults, supports a link with 
aggression. And the tendency of bonobos to aim 
bites at the extremities may explain the nature of 
the defects. 

Damaging fights have not, however, been witnessed (de 
Waal 1 9 89b: 22 1— 22), and techniques of managing con- 
flict seem highly developed; in this respect, bonobos 
may exhibit important similarities with simple human 
societies in harboring both strong conflict-mediation 
skills and the potential for rare but ultimately extreme 

In general, and again with the partial and/or possible 
exception of bonobos, great apes exhibit marked male 
dominance hierarchies maintained and altered by 
aggressive display, fighting, and violence. Sub-alpha- 

KNAUFT Violence and Sociality in Human Evolution \ 397 

male-male coalitions are marked among common chim- 
panzees but largely absent in other ape species. Among 
gorillas and chimpanzees males are the focus of group 
cohesion; bonobos are more female-based, and cohesion 
among orangutan adults is limited to mating dyads. 

In selected formal respects, dominance hierarchies in 
middle-range human societies are more similar to those 
of great apes (their other huge differences notwithstand- 
ing) than to those of simpler human societies. In both 
great-ape and middle-range human societies, competi- 
tive dominance relations entail concrete, behaviorally 
regularized relations of superordination and submission 
among adult males and systematic inequalities in access 
to valued resources. Hierarchical relations are ulti- 
mately negotiable and subject to coalitional strategizing. 
Dominance hierarchies are an important and often pre- 
eminent male concern. In the simplest human societies, 
by contrast, cultural emphasis is on precluding rather 
than facilitating male status distinctions. The develop- 
ment of the capacity for forming male hierarchies is 
effectively undercut by a combination of ecological, 
social, and cultural forces. Conversely, if, as de Waal 
(1989^, b) has suggested, chimpanzees and bonobos have 
the capacity to suspend hierarchies temporarily in shar- 
ing and reconciliation, the particular conditions of their 
evolution have not had much leveling effect on male 
dominance hierarchies in free-ranging populations. As 
Whallon (1989:448-49) notes. 

If we adopt a basically primate model (more specifi- 
cally ape and in particular chimpanzee) ... we can 
see, among other things, that the typical pattern of 
dominance relations among individuals . . . would 
not be particularly adaptive in environments of low 
resource density and predictability. It would prevent 
an effective internal distribution of resources in the 
group, which therefore could not take advantage of 
the risk reduction available with division of labour 
and particularly with separation of labour. 

As a result, he concludes, the late Paleolithic saw the 
culmination of an evolutionary trend toward the ''re- 
placement of ape-like systems of interpersonal domi- 
nance established through relatively constant display, 
combat, and trial and error, by systems of at least rela- 
tively egalitarian, stable, and reliable relations of rights 
and obligations among individuals both within and be- 
tween local groups.'' 

The available evidence thus suggests that the trajec- 
tory of male status differentiation in human evolution is 
U-shaped rather than linear. Correspondingly, similarity 
between great apes and middle-range human societies in 
terms of competitive male dominance hierarchies may 
be based on analogy rather than homology, in contrast 
to the assumptions of current sociobiological reasoning 
(e.g., Betzig 1986, Betzig, Borgerhoff Mulder, and Turke 
1988; cf. also Wrangham 1987, Manson and Wrangham 
1 99 1, Tooby and DeVore 1987). The tenuousness of such 
analogies is underscored by contrasting patterns among 
simple human societies. It is quite possible that patterns 

analogous to those of simple societies characterized a 
significant portion of our evolution as H. sapiens. 

As we have seen, the relative absence of male domi- 
nance hierarchies in simple human societies does not 
preclude the occurrence of severe male violence. The 
interface between this violence and intense sociality is 
all the more in need of explanation in that it is not easily 
accounted for by theories often used to explain the col- 
lective, reciprocating conflict common in middle-range 
societies (see Knauft 1987^). To probe this question, it 
is necessary to consider male-female relations and, in 
particular, evolutionary contrasts in patterns of male 
sexual competition. 

Male Competition for Sexual Access 
to Females 

The conflict between sexual self-interest and coopera- 
tive affiliation must have been profound during the early 
evolution of human social organization. Distinctive fea- 
tures of the social evolution of H. sapiens if not Homo 
generally in all likelihood included high male parental 
investment, a significant sexual division of labor, the 
sharing of valuable food throughout a group of 25 + re- 
lated and unrelated individuals, and exchange of infor- 
mation and flexible access to resources among several 
such dispersed but interlocking forager groups. This 
form of organization provided crucial adaptive advan- 
tages for humans relative to social carnivores, solitary 
and herd herbivores, and omnivorous nonhuman pri- 
mates. As noted above, however, the regular dispersal 
of individuals to exploit patchy or unpredictable food 
resources made mating exclusivity and paternity cer- 
tainty problematic. The human solution to this problem 
is arguably unique (contrast Foley 1987). 

As Freud and the early Levi-Strauss elucidated, human 
societies have developed symbolically mediated social 
and psychological constraints on individuals' sexual im- 
pulses,- sexual control in humans is both psychically in- 
ternalized and socially and symbolically maintained. It 
may be suggested that the threat posed by immediate 
and disruptive self-interested sexual behavior in the evo- 
lution of H. sapiens was to a significant extent, though 
by no means totally, countered by cultural prescriptions 
fostering intra- and intergroup cooperation. 

How this process may have arisen out of processes of 
standard natural selection is an intriguing question to 
which the work of Boyd and Richerson (1985) provides 
important insights. If imitative learning is strongly se- 
lected for as a rule-of-thumb adaptive strategy — as it is 
likely to have been among early humans, a species de- 
pendent upon prolonged socialization — then phenotypic 
traits may spread very rapidly. Added to this, and no 
doubt in causal concert with it, is the highly developed 
ability of humans to communicate through elaborate 
symbolic communication. As has recently been sug- 
gested by Goodenough (1990), Bickerton (1990), Steklis 
(1985), and Marshack (1989^3), the propensity toward 
elaborate symbolic communication was probably highly 

398 I CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Voluuie 32, Nuuibei 4, August- October 1991 

developed even if not fully equivalent to modem lan- 
guage during the evolution of archaic H. sapiens and 
possibly H. er actus. ^ 

8. This assessment is but little compromised by suggestions that 
the fully modern repertoire of human linguistic and symbolic capa- 
bilities may not have arisen until 45,000-35,000 b.p. (e.g., Mellars 
and Stringer 1989, Lieberman 1984, Chase and Dibble 1987, David- 
son and Noble 1989, Binford 1989). The fallacy of linking symbolic 
facility narrowly with relatively elaborate archeological evidence 
of ritual and art has been exposed by Lindly and Clark (1990), who 
point out that Upper Paleolithic assemblages until about 20,000 
B.p. typically lack evidence of elaborate symbolism (p. 239; cf. also 
Dibble 1989). Gamble (1990:243) notes that even the colonization 
of North America and the North European Plain after 13,000 b.p. 
are "marked by very few if any" directly symbolic artifacts. Obvi- 
ously, language and protolanguage were important in human evolu- 
tion long before the regular encoding of symbolism in durable arti- 
facts (cf. Bickerton [1990:176] on the "perils of fossilism" in the 
study of language evolution). Clear evidence exists for some form 
of complex symbolic capacity and corresponding behavior at least 
as far back as H. erectus (Marshack 1985, i989<3), including beads, 
animal-bone pendants, and other elaborate decorative items in 
Mousterian assemblages (e.g., R. White 1989) and fire-hardened 
hardwood digging sticks, post holes, ocher crayons, and huge 
amounts of red ocher powder in association with Acheulian finds, 
some dated to several hundred thousand years b.p. (Marshack 

That some of this evidence for human symbolic capacity may 
indicate supernatural belief and ritual behavior is particularly sig- 
nificant in evolutionary terms (e.g., Solecki 1971, 1975; Trinkaus 
1983; cf. Wreschner 1981; Marshack 1981, 1989b). As Rappaport 
(i97i<3, b, 1979) has suggested, ritual reinforces and insulates from 
argument shared propositions about the world and fosters deep- 
seated cognitive acceptance of and behavioral compliance with 
these propositions. Religious belief and ritual emphasize broad so- 
cial objectives and cultural values, often advancing group goals as 
opposed to more immediate individual self-interest. Self-interest is 
of course in common if not constant tension with group-level goals 
and constraints, but such goals and constraints have themselves 
long exerted an important influence on human behavior and on 
the cognition and motivation that underlie it. Among humans, 
internalization of values that propagate group interests is likely to 
have been important for social functioning from an early period, 
as Durkheim (1965 [1912]) long ago suggested. 

These issues are sometimes overshadowed by current debates 
about "replacement" versus "continuity" hypotheses concerning 
the preponderance of anatomically modern humans in Europe at 
45,000-35,000 B.p. (see Trinkaus 1989, Smith, Falsetti, and Don- 
nelly 1989). The remarkable spread and socioecological adaptation 
of H. sapiens prior to this time argue for some kind of highly devel- 
oped linguistic facility. Of particular present relevance is that the 
faunal data "imply that sharing was a regular feature of Middle 
Paleolithic economic life" (Chase 1989:333). It appears quite likely 
on both conceptual and anatomical grounds that Middle Paleolithic 
populations had some elaborate form of speech (Marshack 1 989*3, 
Bickerton 1990; see Arensburg et al. 1989 concerning anatomical 
evidence). As Whallon (1989:450) notes, "it seems most unlikely 
that fully developed language capacities could have emerged from 
other than an already evolving system of symbolic communication 
(cf. Bickerton 1981:261, et passim]. It seems equally unlikely that 
kinship, for example, as an organizing principle in cultural sys- 
tems, could have emerged from an organization entirely lacking in 
the definition of social roles and positions." 

Bickerton (1990: chaps. 6 and 7) has recently suggested that com- 
plex protolanguage was likely characteristic of H. erectus and that 
fully syntactic language was characteristic of archaic H. sapiens. 
The existence of some complex but not fully modern protolanguage 
does appear consistent with trends characteristic of H. erectus such 
as increased encephalization, increased subsistence flexibility, 
greatly increased home-range size, and habitation dispersal to non- 

Through socialization and symbolic communication, 
behavioral traits can be learned and spread — even when 
they are not maximally adaptive — faster than they can 
be eradicated through biogenetic selection. This creates 
the potential for the temporary spread of maladap- 
tive customs in a human population — what Durham 
(i99i:chap. 7) calls cultural-genetic opposition. In addi- 
tion, however, it allows the spread of behaviors that can 
favor the sociocultural group at the expense of a given 
individual's inclusive fitness (contrast Hamilton 1964). 
As a result, with extensive symbolic transmission — 
itself initially favored by standard Darwinian se- 
lection — group selection and genuine altruism become 
possible. Put differently, biogenetic selection gives rise 
to a cultural transmission process that ultimately be- 
comes partially decoupled from it. This does not con- 
demn humans to biogenetic dysfunctionality,- it simply 
adds the cultural group to the individual as a separate 
and competing unit of selection. 

The assumption of many researchers that the indi- 
vidual is the unit of selection in human evolution is 
increasingly being challenged. From ethnography and 
demography, queries are raised by the existence 
of behavior patterns that systematically compromise 
rather than maximize the reproductive success of indi- 
vidual actors (e.g., Vining 1986; Knauft 1987^, b, 1989^; 
Moore 1990). From social psychology, sociobiological as- 
sumptions have been questioned on the basis of experi- 
ments that document the existence of altruistic tenden- 
cies toward strangers in the absence of rationally 
expected payoffs (e.g., Caporeal et al. 1989, Dawes, van 
de Kragt, and Orbell 1988). And from theoretical biology, 
questions are raised by increasing realization that the 
conditions under which self-interested reciprocal altru- 
ism can explain cooperation are more restrictive than 
previously thought (e.g., Boyd and Lorberbaum 1987). At 
the same time, there is increasing recognition that group 

tropical ecozones. Protolanguage is also consistent with the com- 
plex but relatively standardized Acheulian tool kit. The increased 
technological sophistication, openness, and productivity of Mous- 
terian disk-core technology, by contrast, may reflect cognitive ca- 
pacities consistent with grammar and syntax in archaic H. sapiens. 
A further consideration of the Middle Paleolithic transition, how- 
ever, might suggest that the speech of archaic H. sapiens included 
syntax and productivity but lacked full duality of patterning (cf. 
Tomasello 1991; Parker 1985:624-25; Parker and Gibson 1979; 
see Hockett and Ascher 1964). Relative to Upper Paleolithic ones, 
Mousterian assemblages were arguably undeveloped in "third- 
order" objectification — blanks made for specific parts of elabo- 
rately fashioned composite tools and the careful making of tools 
such as burins that were used to make other tools. Conceptually 
analogous, syntactic language without duality of patterning lacks 
the intralexical productivity that recombines word-making sounds 
to increase the number and diversity of linguistic referents. 

Though specific details of language evolution are subject to de- 
bate, it appears highly likely from a broader perspective — even ne- 
glecting the potential for species continuity and the origin of 
anatomically modern humans approaching 100,000 b.p. (Smith, 
Falsetti, and Donnelly 1989; cf. Mellars 1988, i989<3) — that elabo- 
rate forms of linguistic communication facilitated the remarkable 
development and spread of humans from the time of archaic H. 
sapiens and probably since H. erectus. 

KNAUFT Violence and Sociality in Human Evolution \ 399 

selection may help explain the existence of widespread 
reciprocity and altruism (e.g., Boyd 1988, Boyd and Rich- 
erson 1990^, Rogers 1990) and that cultural transmis- 
sion may operate through selection parameters that are 
nonbiogenetic, nonindividualistic, and/or superorganic 
(e.g., Boyd and Richerson 1985, 1990b; Richerson and 
Boyd 1989; Harpending and Rogers 1987; Nowak and 
Sigmund 1989; Durham 1991; see more generally Wil- 
son and Sober 1989, Wilson 1989; contrast Hamilton 
1964; Trivers 1971, 1985; Axelrod and Hamilton 1981). 

In the same way that, from a neo-Darwinian perspec- 
tive, the individual has been suggested to be a gene's 
way of producing another gene (e.g., Dawkins 1989), so 
too an individual in a human cultural environment is to 
a certain extent a culture's means of reproducing and 
spreading a given set of symbols — propagating a collec- 
tive symbolic system. What results is complex coevolu- 
tion of distinct behavioral transmission and selection 
systems, one symbolic, the other biogenetic (Durham 
1 99 1, Boyd and Richerson 1985). The increased speed 
and elaboration of cultural as opposed to biogenetic 
transmission processes render symbolic effects increas- 
ingly influential on behavior over time, but the tension 
between them is never eliminated. Robert Paul (personal 
communication; cf. 1987) has suggested that a kind of 
''arms race'' emerges between cultural constraints upon 
sexual impulses and biogenetic selection pressures that 
encourage mating. This may well have made humans 
among the sexiest and simultaneously the most sexually 
repressed of species. 

Cultural control of sexual impulses has never been 
complete; threats to cooperation and integrity posed 
by illicit sexuality and its concomitant disruption have 
always been present. The unprecedented transmission 
of behaviors and mental motivations through cultural 
means, however, has resulted in significant group- 
cooperative control over sexuality. Rule-governed cul- 
tural control of sexual behavior, even if partial, could 
facilitate cooperation and the sexual division of labor, 
thus increasing the survival rate of the group.^ 

In simple human societies, cultural appropriation of 
sexuality is crucially evident in (i) the institution of 
marriage, (2) frequent monogamy despite collective 
group living, (3) widespread classificatory extension of 
the incest taboo (elaborate exogamy), and (4) marital ex- 
change and alliance. 

Marriage confers rights of sexual access. Though these 
norms are not uncommonly broken in simple societies 
(e.g., Shostak 1981), sexual norms do circumscribe sex- 
ual activity for most persons to a great degree (e.g., con- 
trast, for !Kung, Lee i979b:chap. 6). Simple societies of- 
ten reduce the discrepancy between norm and reality by 
making the establishment of marriage socially flexible 
(e.g., Lee i979b:chap. 6; Balikci 1970:153-62; Wood- 

9. Boyd and Richerson (1990^:124) suggest that group selection for 
cooperative behavior is most likely for hard-to-learn traits, and 
Rogers (1990:408) suggests that group selection via selective emi- 
gration is facilitated by mobility rather than by isolation of local 

burn 1972:205; TurnbuU 1961). Premarital andpostmar- 
ital sexuality are often tolerated, and in some cases ex- 
tramarital sexuality is itself culturally controlled and 
appropriated for alliance purposes — as in Eskimo wife- 
exchange partnership (Balikci 1970:140-43). Finally, 
norms of sexual fidelity are underscored by the violent 
repercussions of breaking them. Though many simple 
societies tolerate polygyny or do not actively proscribe 
it, the cultural and statistical norm for most adults in 
simple societies remains monogamy (Lee 1979b: 79; 
TurnbuU 196s a, b). In contrast to the situation in many 
of the more complex prestate societies, polygyny is not 
a prominent index or symbol of differential adult male 
status (contrast Flinn and Low 1986). 

One of the most important sociopolitical dimensions 
of cultural sexual control in simple societies is affinal 
alliance predicated on rules of extended exogamy (e.g., 
Levi-Strauss 1969 [1949]). Though incest avoidance of 
various kinds has also been documented among pri- 
mates, the social and political importance of extended 
elaborate exogamy is distinctive and enormous among 
humans. Marriage in simple societies creates enduring 
links of reciprocity, and coresidence, subsistence cooper- 
ation, and/or sharing among close affines are highly de- 
veloped (e.g., Lee i979b:chaps. 5 and 6; TurnbuU 1965^, 
b; Damas 1984). Affinal cooperation, operating among 
kin who are culturally created, is in many ways a sym- 
bol of cultural viability. (In addition to affinality, simple 
societies are characterized by a variety of extrakinship or 
fictive-kin relationships — trade partnerships, namesake 
relations, ritual/totemic affiliations, and kinlike classi- 
ficatory relations — that link persons in extensive social 
networks [e.g., Guemple 1972; Balikci i97o:chap. 6; 
Wiessner 1982; cf. Yengoyan 1984]. Extensive social ties 
have been inferred from archeological evidence at least 
as far back as the Upper Paleolithic [e.g.. Gamble 1982; 
1983; 1986:386-91; Whallon 1989]). 

Though the importance of cultural constraints upon 
sexuality can hardly be overemphasized, there remains 
a poignant tension in simple societies between cultural 
norms and individual desires. As Collier and Rosaldo 
(1981) have noted, marriage and legitimate sexual access 
to a woman are predominant markers of male adult- 
hood, and these rights are fervently protected. Corre- 
spondingly, much of the severe violence that does occur 
is ultimately related to male sexual disputes over 
women (Knauft 1987^:477). Displacement of affinal or 
sexual tensions also appears to underlie much of the 
seemingly irrational violence over ''trivial'' issues that 
occurs in many egalitarian societies (e.g., Lee 1979^: 
chap. 13; van der Steenhoven 1959; Hoebel 1964). Sexual 
tensions in these societies are normally kept in check 
by norms of affinal harmony, group cooperation, and 
personal propriety. When they are ultimately galva- 
nized, however, they are frequently quite intense. This 
threat is exacerbated by the absence of political leaders 
or dominant individuals who might exercise control and 
of institutionalized or formalized redress mechanisms. 
Indeed, violence occurs in significant degree to prevent 
some individuals from acquiring sexual dominance. 

400 I CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Volume 32, Numbei 4, August- October 1991 

Violence in simple societies may be aggressively self- 
interested, e.g., aimed at dethroning a rival and pro- 
curing a woman from him as a spouse (e.g., Balikci 
i97o:chap. 7). This violence may occasionally be suc- 
cessful, but it tends to be disapproved of by the group at 
large and may result in compensatory violence at its 
initiative. Moreover, if the aggressor is successful in kill- 
ing his primary rival, he may be considered an outcast 
because of his breach of norms and may be unable to 
obtain support even among his closest kin. In only i of 
the 22 homicides listed by Lee (1979^:383) for the !Kung 
did the killer run off with the victim's wife, and this 
case is itself revealing; despite the fact that the couple 
had previously been lovers, the woman was frightened 
by the killing and as a result soon returned alone. In 
most simple societies, aggressively self-interested per- 
sons may be killed with the consent or active collabora- 
tion of the community at large (see Lee 1979^: chap. 13; 
Balikci i97o:chap. 9). This responsive violence can in a 
sense be considered a form of execution or capital pun- 
ishment (see Otterbein 1986, 1987). As Otterbein em- 
phasizes, it tends to uphold norms (such as egalitarian- 
ism and sexual propriety) that are crucial to group sur- 

Often, however, the rationale for violence in simple 
societies is not so clear-cut. Norms of sexual propriety 
are internalized by the individual even though they con- 
flict with strong sexual desires. It is thus not surprising 
that violence often erupts suddenly in a displaced, dis- 
torted, or noninstrumental manner. For instance, Lee 
(1979^:397) states for the !Kung, 'This is a society in 
which a high proportion of 'crimes' are 'crimes of pas- 
sion.' It may be useful to consider !Kung fighting as a 
kind of temporary insanity or running amok rather than 
as an instrumental act in a means-end framework." Lee 
notes further (p. 392), 

The most striking aspect of the killer-victim rela- 
tion ... is that in the majority of cases the victim 
was not a principal in the verbal conflict that led up 
to the actual killing with arrow or spear. In only 8 
of the 18 cases on which I have data was the victim 
a principal in the previous argument. In 10 other 
killings, the victim was struck more or less at ran- 
dom: in 3 cases a man came to the aid of another 
and was killed; in 4 cases a peacemaker was fatally 
wounded; and 3 victims (2 of them women) were by- 

That !Kung are superb marksmen with spear and arrow 
underscores the blind fury of the event. As Lee writes, 
"!Kung men are excellent shots when hunting game, but 
are poor shots when aiming at each other." This kind of 
dissociated behavior is similar to the sudden passion of 
Mbuti arguments (TurnbuU 1961), strongly dissociative 
violence among Inuit (Rasmussen 1932:17; Briggs 1982), 
and the much-contested "blood drunkenness" among 
Semai (Dentan 1979:58-59; Robarchek and Dentan 
1987). Cognitively displaced and projective aggression 
may also occur as violent scapegoating of persons within 
the community (Knauft 1985, 1987^). 

Some forms of violence in simple societies thus appear 
almost more dysfunctional than functional and bear at 
least a passing resemblance to the syndrome of "phylo- 
genetic regression" described by Bailey (1985, 1987; cf. 
Neuman 1987). Bailey argues on neurophysiological 
grounds that sudden aggressive outbursts stem from 
phylogenetically "primitive" parts of the brain and char- 
acterize various forms of genuine brain dysfunction. 
While his claims about phylogenetic regression — that it 
can explain myriad types of aggression and violence — 
are too sweeping, his model may apply to certain forms 
of simple-society violence, particularly those galvanized 
by sexual tensions (see also Konner i982:chap. 9). Given 
its phylogenetic and neurophysiological underpinnings, 
the human aggressive potential would have been diffi- 
cult if not impossible to suppress entirely, particularly 
for males in the context of mating competition (see 
Hamburg and Trudeau 1981, Blanchard and Blanchard 
1984; cf. Valzelli 1981). The internalization of cultural 
norms conflicts powerfully with this impetus, however, 
and can exacerbate psychic conflict and dysfunctional 

It may be emphasized that symbolically mediated con- 
trols on sexuality that facilitate group-adaptive be- 
haviors do not replace or negate individualistic sexual 
strategizing; biogenetic propensities for fitness maximi- 
zation continue to be acted out. However, the enormous 
competing influence of cultural norms in constraining 
human sexual behavior — sociologically and psychologi- 
cally as well as symbolically — cannot be ignored. To ar- 
gue that violence in simple societies is driven by socio- 
biological selection pressures simply because it often 
relates in some fashion to sexual frustration is to miss 
the distinctive impact of cultural rules upon sexual be- 
havior and the implications of this for sociosexual con- 
flict among humans. It is arguably the tension between 
group-symbolic and individual-biogenetic imperatives 
that is responsible for the distinctive features of socio- 
sexual conflict in simple human societies. ^^ 

Middle-range societies on the whole exhibit much 
greater emphasis than simple ones on explicitly targeted 
competition between men over female sexuality. Cor- 
respondingly, these societies on the whole provide 
greater and more consistent sexual rewards for men who 
are successful in aggressive male status competition. In 
a significant number of known "tribal" and "chiefly" 
societies, for instance, polygyny is both an index and a 
reflection of status or rank. For instance, Feinman and 
NeitzePs (1984:58-59) tabulation of leadership status 

10. It could be countered that exceptionally intelligent individuals 
can enhance their reproductive success while appearing to conform 
to community norms. For instance, since the distinction between 
homicide and capital punishment is often murky in simple socie- 
ties (Knauft i987<3:49i-92), community norms could be strategi- 
cally manipulated by self-interested individuals smart enough to 
subvert them and get away with it. In the long run, however, this 
would stimulate increasingly intelligent countermeasures by the 
society at large. Sexual drive and its cultural control are thus at 
once logically antithetical and mutually reinforcing, and rule- 
governed control over sexuality is not reduced but increased by its 
potential contravention. 

KNAUFT Violence and Sociality in Human Evolution \ 401 

prerogatives in 5 1 New World prestate societies reveals 
that multiple wives are a concomitant of leadership in 
39.2% (20/51) of the cases. Male wealth differentials 
may be translated into differential reproduction through 
the use of bridewealth payments to procure new wives. 
Betzig (1986) has extended this general line of reasoning 
to posit a link between despotism and differential repro- 
duction. Despite the many problems with her argument 
and counterexamples (e.g., Moore 1990; cf. also Knauft 
i9Sja, b), a connection between male prestige and repro- 
ductive success appears more plausible for these socie- 
ties than for simple ones. It does appear that reproduc- 
tive advantage is one of the concomitants — though by 
no means the exclusive cause — of victorious status ri- 
valry in many prestate societies in which male status is 
overtly and vigorously contested (e.g., Chagnon 1979, 
1988). Carneiro (personal communication, 1 981) has fur- 
ther suggested that polygyny (and corresponding repro- 
ductive variance) increases greatly as a prerogative of 
leadership with the appearance of chief doms. Thus, for 
instance, paramount chiefs frequently use wealth and 
power to arrogate unto themselves a substantial number 
of mates and/or wives. 

Great-ape dominance hierarchies are strongly linked 
to male competition over sexual access to females. Par- 
ticularly among gorillas and orangutans, this selective 
pressure has led to extreme sexual dimorphism and to 
distinctive physical and display characteristics in adult 
males (e.g., Rodman and Mitani 1987). Females of both 
species show strong sexual preference for an adult as 
opposed to a mature subadult male. In part because of 
injurious competition between them, fully mature 
males in these species seldom interact. In those confron- 
tations that have been observed, the larger, stronger 
male drives off his competitor. Violent fights typically 
occur when one of the competitors does not quickly give 
way. The following is an account for orangutans (Galdi- 
kas 1979:213): 

One such [encounter between mature males] oc- 
curred when the resident male, TP, was in consort- 
ship with a mature female, Priscilla. A visiting male 
moved toward the couple. The resident male charged 
toward him and a fight ensued, which lasted 25 min- 
utes. Fighting consisted mainly of chasing and furi- 
ous grappling, including biting at each other's face, 
shoulders, and hands. . . . Finally, they separated and 
sat facing each other 10 meters apart. The resident 
male threw a snag [stripped branch] and called; the 
other male then disappeared while the victor went 
off in search of his receptive female (and her off- 
spring) who had slowly moved away foraging while 
the combat was taking place. 

Mitani (1985) found that most male-male orangutan in- 
teractions occur in the presence of females. Large males 
actively disrupt the mating of other males, with the 
highest-ranking adult male consistently displacing oth- 
ers. A high frequency of male orangutans are physically 
disfigured by fights, and it is quite likely that some ma- 
ture males are effectively excluded from reproduction 

or killed outright (e.g., Galdikas 1979:216, 230). Female 
orangutans are strongly drawn to mature males in their 
home ranges, and the forceful attempts of subadult 
males to copulate with females (when an adult male is 
absent) are typically resisted fervently by females them- 
selves. What may be termed rape sometimes occurs in 
such contexts (Galdikas 1979; see MacKinnon 1979). 

Among gorillas, the cohesive social group and harem 
of the silverback male is threatened by maturing black- 
backs. These young males eventually leave their group, 
become solitary until more fully adult, and then attempt 
through competition to gain females from existing 
groups and hence form social and breeding groups of 
their own (Schaller 1976, Fossey 1983, Harcourt 1979). 
Though adult gorillas tend to avoid each other, confron- 
tation between them ultimately tends to be quite vio- 
lent (see below). 

Among common chimpanzees, the relationship be- 
tween dominance and sexual access is less uniform. 
Many males establish temporary consort relations with 
females, and these tend not to be aggressively contested. 
However, nonconsort mating — when receptive females 
are at the peak of estrus in a group context — is very 
frequent (Goodall 1986:442), and here aggressive male 
sexual competition is pronounced (Tutin 1979). To some 
extent, the chimpanzee alpha male or the highest- 
ranked male present can monopolize a female in a group 
context when she is at the peak of estrus (Goodall 
1986:452, 472-73). This pattern, evident at Gombe and 
among captive chimpanzees (de Waal 1982), has been 
documented definitively among Mahale Mountain 
chimpanzees, with alpha-male status conferring ''a great 
reproductive advantage'' in copulation as well as nutri- 
tion (Nishida 1970; 1990:28). Alpha males enforce a 
markedly possessive mating pattern which allows them 
to copulate at an exceptionally high rate with the most 
fertile females near their time of ovulation (Hasegawa 
and Hiraiwa-Hasegawa 1983, 1990; Takahata 1990a). 

Systematic data about the relationship between bo- 
nobo dominance patterns and mating are apparently not 
yet available (Wrangham 1987:65). Bonobo sexual rela- 
tions are particularly promiscuous and exhibit a high 
frequency of copulation outside the period of maximal 
female sexual swelling (Badrian and Badrian 1984, de 
Waal 1987). Bonobos form subgroups comprising two to 
eight males and one to eight females and may also form 
consortships. Thus, ''many, perhaps all females have 
close long-term relationships with particular males 
within the community" (Wrangham 1986:368; see Fu- 
ruichi 1989, F. White 1989, Kano 1984, Thompson- 
Handler, Malenky, and Badrian 1984). The relationship 
between this process and dominance is little known. Re- 
cent research by Dahl and Nadler (1989:19) suggests that 
mild male sexual aggression is involved in the high fre- 
quency of bonobo sexual activity and that further study 
is needed ''to determine whether this is intimidation, as 
defined for the other great apes (Nadler 1988), coercion, 
or persuasion." Preliminary evidence suggests that copu- 
lation of bonobo males with high-ranking females is in- 
deed related to their period of maximal sexual swelling. 

402 I CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Voluuie 32, Number 4, August- October 1991 

whereas noncyclic heterosexuality serves as a tension- 
regulation and conflict-resolution mechanism closely 
related to dominance — occurring particularly between 
males and immature or subordinate females and some- 
times involving no intromission or even penile erection 
on the part of the male (Dahl 1987, Furuichi 1987). 

In summary, competition between males over mating 
is evident among all the great apes, only partially excep- 
ting bonobos. Resulting differentials in male reproduc- 
tive success make such male aggressiveness subject to 
significant natural selection (Smuts 1987). This is evi- 
dent anatomically in pronounced sexual dimorphism 
among single-male gorilla and orangutan breeding 
groups and a quite high testes-size/body-weight ratio 
among chimpanzees and bonobos, whose social organi- 
zation includes promiscuous multimale mating. Hu- 
mans, however, have neither of these crucial anatomical 
indices of male sexual competition, and this pattern is 
both highlighted and perhaps to some degree explained 
by the culturally mediated ability of humans to main- 
tain pair-bonded sexual relations within a diffusely co- 
operative multimale group. In social terms as well, it 
appears that violence systematically enhances mating 
access of dominant males among great apes but much 
less so in simple human societies. Among the latter, a 
male challenger, even if victorious, may be a social out- 
cast rather than gaining access to his rival's mate. As is 
evident by the violent end that recidivist killers them- 
selves ultimately meet among the !Kung and other sim- 
ple societies, violent competition to gain sexual access 
to women may limit rather than increase lifetime male 
reproductive success. 

Some sociobiologists have suggested that sexual vio- 
lence among human males may be a ''high-risk'' mating 
strategy for underprivileged males (e.g., Thornhill and 
Thornhill 1983; see Daly and Wilson 1983, 1988). How- 
ever, the highly egalitarian nature of male-male rela- 
tions in simple societies — including the normative in- 
stitution of marriage for adult men — makes it unlikely 
that some adult males will be systematically ''under- 
privileged" in sexual access (e.g.. Draper 1975, TurnbuU 
1982, Lee 1982). Reproductive success is in these cases 
unlikely to increase with interpersonal aggression and 
may even show a negative association with it. This is 
consistent with cultural values in these societies: inter- 
personal aggression and violence tend to be unrewarded 
if not actively devalued by men and women alike. 
Among societies in which kin or territorial groups are 
coherent and have exclusive interests, it could be argued 
that killing of anyone on "the other side" increases the 
fitness of one's group and oneself relative to one's ene- 
mies (see Daly, Wilson, and Weghorst 1982). However, 
simple societies tend to lack such exclusive territorial 
groups. Indeed, their subsistence strategy is often highly 
dependent on nonexclusive access to resources and on 
diffuse territorial linkages. As a result, ethnocentric kill- 
ing is rare and cannot easily be considered to increase 
inclusive fitness in any event. 

In significant contrast to simple human societies, 
great-ape and middle-range human ones display similari- 

ties, or at least analogies, between male dominance and 
differential sexual access. Again, then, the known range 
of variation belies simplistic assumptions of uniformity 
over the course of human evolution, cautioning in par- 
ticular against drawing homologous conclusions from 
male status competition in great-ape and human 
"tribal" societies. 

Violence and Intergroup Competition 

In simple human societies, exclusivity and boundedness 
of social groups are largely precluded by shifting re- 
source availability, fluid population movement, lack of 
fixed property, and the need for intergroup alliance and 
support. Territorial rights, while often formally recog- 
nized, are rarely enforced when permission to hunt or 
forage is requested (Balikci 1970:170; Lee i^j^b'.Sj-, 
TurnbuU 1965(3; see also Myers 1986; cf. Hamilton 
1982). Band membership tends to be fluid, shifting easily 
to exploit available resources. Local groups also share 
information about availability of subsistence resources, 
and it has been suggested that the advantage of such 
information sharing was a major selective force in the 
evolution of human linguistic communication (Kurland 
and Beckerman 1985). 

With emphasis on egalitarian access to resources, co- 
operation, and diffuse affiliative networks, contrary em- 
phasis on intergroup rivalry and collective violence is 
minimal. Even apart from cultural injunctions and affil- 
iative needs, the shifting location and composition of 
bands tend to undercut the demographic basis for uni- 
formly opposed territorial groups. Given migratory pat- 
terns and resource dispersal, resources are difficult if not 
impossible to defend, and the cost of such defense typi- 
cally outweighs its benefit (Netting 1986: chap. i). Like- 
wise, the cost of defense and retaliation against armed 
aggression is typically great; it is more expeditious to 
move away. This tends to short-circuit patterns of feud 
and systematic raiding or warfare (see Woodburn 1984, 
TurnbuU 1984, Lee and DeVore 1984). 

Some authors have projected such reasoning quite far 
back in human evolution. Concerning H. erectus, 
Campbell {i9Ssa:T,26) writes: "conflicts between bands, 
if they occurred, must have been rare in an uncrowded 
world. . . . They probably came after humans settled 
down on the land, became a more numerous species, 
and forged cultures that encouraged individual and 
group pride in possessions, territories, and beliefs." Gell- 
ner (1989) suggests that systematic use of coercive force 
as an organizational feature of society was undeveloped 
prior to the advent of food storage and agriculture. 

The question of territoriality and armed conflict may 
under certain conditions be more complicated. There is 
some historical evidence of reciprocating collective con- 
flict, sometimes ethnically based, among simple foragers 
(Balikci 1970:182-84; Lee 1979(3:382; Clastres 1972; K. 
Hill, personal communication; Griffin 1984:103-7; Ro- 
barchek 1990). Feuding or warfare does not, however, 
appear pronounced except where, as among the Ache, 

KNAUFT Violence and Sociality in Human Evolution \ 403 

Agta, and Waorani, large-scale intrusion by agricultural 
societies resulted in conflict over land and internal soci- 
etal reorganization.^^ Apart from the influence of state 
societies, collective enmities in simple societies tend to 
be minimal and to occur between groups that lie outside 
the extensive networks of affiliation that link adjacent 
bands and territories. Travel to and armed conflict 
against persons in such areas tend to be infrequent. 

In middle-range societies, social competition in- 
creases with the increase in fixed, high-value resources, 
sedentism, and population density. Even where popula- 
tion density is low, valuable movable resources such as 
large domesticated animals may become a source of in- 
tergroup antagonism and systematic hostility (e.g.. Bed- 
ouins and herders with respect to camels and livestock. 
Plains Indians with respect to horses). With sedentism 
and/or significant domestication of plants or animals 
there is a proliferation of corporate groups that stress 
exclusive membership and rituals of allegiance (e.g., 
Plog 1990:193; see also Smith 1975). Ethnic differentia- 
tion and ethnocentrism become more pronounced, and 
fraternal interest groups become increasingly important 
in armed conflict to protect or extend access to valued 
rights and resources (Otterbein and Otterbein 1965, Ot- 
terbein 1968; see also LeVine and Campbell 1972). John- 
son and Earle (1981:60) suggest that in ''increasingly 
widespread and increasingly successful efforts to restrict 
access to critical resources, we encounter the beginnings 
of warfare.'' Paige and Paige (1981:75-78) have shown 
cross-culturally that a stable and valuable resource 
base — such as herds or cultivated lands — is highly corre- 
lated with fraternal-interest-group strength and, indeed, 
a better predictor of it than residence pattern. This un- 
derscores the difficulty of using simple forager/sedentary 
characterizations in a human-evolutionary context. 

Some researchers, including Haas (1990), have drawn 
upon the typologies of Service (1971) and Sahlins (1968) 
to suggest that increased warfare in sedentary societies 
is a key dimension of what is termed ''tribalization.'' 
Others, such as Braun (1990; Braun and Plog 1982), em- 
phasize multidimensional adaptations of sedentary com- 
munities, including networks of trading alliance among 
villages and increasing ritualization, leadership delega- 
tion, and dispute. In either case, both the potential for 
and the incidence of collective armed conflict between 
opposed groups would appear to increase. Feinman and 
Neitzel (1984:48-5 1) found warfare to be the single most 
commonly reported function of leadership in sedentary 
prestate societies in South and Central America and 
eastern North America. Black (1990) has suggested that 
chronic vengeance as a mode of conflict management 
is especially pronounced when social groups are charac- 
terized by immobility, social distance, equality, and 
organization — all typical of middle-range societies. In a 
cross-cultural analysis of aggression, Ross (1985, 1986) 

II. Dense rain-forest areas, where visibility is minimal, offer the 
potential for effective surprise raiding, but the exploitation of such 
habitats was relatively late because of its difficulty in the absence 
of plant domestication or trade with sedentary populations (Camp- 
bell i985b:chap. 2; Ichikawa 1983; Bailey et al. 15 

documents, among other things, a direct association be- 
tween socioeconomic complexity and external warfare 
in prestate societies. 

Certainly in those areas of the world where small- 
scale sedentary societies have persisted until recent 
times or been subject to intense archeological study, 
warfare has often been shown to have been frequent and 
intense, including in most parts of Melanesia (Knauft 
1990b, Meggitt 1977, Berndt 1962, Koch 1974, Hallpike 
1977, Clunie 1977), Polynesia (e.g., Goldman 1970, 
Vayda i960), and parts of Southeast Asia (R. Rosaldo 
1980, M. Rosaldo 1980, Bock 1985, Kiefer 1972, Gibson 
1990), South and Central America (e.g., Chagnon 1968, 
1983, 1988; Harner 1972; Ross 1984; Whitehead 1990; 
Carneiro 1990; Drennan and Uribe 1987), North 
America (e.g., Drago 1970, Ewers 1958, Grinnell 1956, 
Wallace and Hoebel 1952), Africa (e.g., Sahlins 1961, 
Kelley 1985, Fukui and Turton 1979, Kuper 1937, Van- 
sina 1966), the Middle East (e.g.. Meeker 1979; Hardy 
1963; Barth 1961, 1965), and Europe (e.g., Boehm 1984(3, 
Moss 1979). Warfare and raiding have also been docu- 
mented among a range of complex hunter-gatherers, in- 
cluding equestrian or sedentary foragers and selected 
prehistoric cases (see Ember 1978, Prayer n.d., Wright 
1988; cf. Price and Brown 1985). 

While certainly admitting an enormous range of varia- 
tion in frequency and intensity of warfare, these socie- 
ties exhibit a much greater tendency toward collective 
armed conflict and toward culturally competitive ethno- 
centrism than simple societies. The tendency toward 
warfare may be yet greater when paramount chiefdoms 
are created through conquest (Carneiro 1981, 1990) and 
is also highly associated with — if not partly causative 
of — the rise of the state (Carneiro 1970, Haas 1982, Ga- 
briel 1990; cf. Claessen and Skalnik 1978). 

Among the great apes, male intergroup killings have 
been documented in gorillas and chimpanzees, are ex- 
tremely likely in orangutans, and are uncertain, sus- 
pected, or under investigation among bonobos. How- 
ever, no great apes are territorial in the strict sense of 
the term.^^ Among all these species and particularly 
orangutans, home ranges are to some degree flexible and 
overlapping. However, challenges to the dominance hi- 
erarchy or to the integrity of breeding units are subject 
to strong and aggressive defense. Among solitary orang- 
utans and in the harem-group organization of gorillas, 
intergroup violence and violence between individual 
adult males are largely synonymous. Violence occurs 
among orangutans as aggression between mature males 
over a female in consort with one of them. Male vio- 
lence in intergroup contexts among gorillas is ultimately 
crucial in establishing and maintaining control of a so- 
cial and breeding group. Fossey (1979) documents sev- 
eral such cases, including one in which a lone silverback 
exhibited aggressive displays and chest-beating, vio- 

12. A definitive case for territoriality can be made for gibbons [Hy- 
lobates lar), which are less closely related to humans than the 
larger apes. Gibbons are arboreal and monogamous and have small, 
well-defined home ranges that are continuously occupied and vig- 
orously defended by males (see Carpenter 1940, Ellefson 1968). 

404 I CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Voluuie 32, Number 4, August- October 1991 

lently charged into a group, effected the killing of an 
infant, and later went off with the infant's mother. The 
existing information on adult male-male gorilla interac- 
tions is summarized by Wrangham (1987:66): 

For gorillas intergroup interactions have been seen 
in the Virunga and in Kahuzi. In the Virunga about 
80 percent of encounters involved violent displays, 
and 50 percent involved physical aggression by adult 
males (Harcourt 1978). Severe wounding (Harcourt 
1978) and probably death (Baumgartel 1976) of adult 
males can result. Furthermore, five out of a total of 
38 infants have apparently been killed by attacks 
from adult males during intergroup encounters 
(Fossey 1979, 1981). In Kahuzi three interactions 
were reported by Yamagiwa (1983). There was no 
physical violence, but there were fierce displays in 
two of them. Furthermore, an infected wound which 
led to the death of a breeding male was apparently 
caused by attacks from a lone male. 

In short, male gorilla breeding success is significantly 
related to violent confrontation with males from other 

Violence among great apes both within and between 
conspecific groups is best documented among chimpan- 
zees (Goodall i986:chaps. 15, 17; Goodall et al. 1979; 
Nishida 1979, 1983; Nishida et al. 1985; de Waal 1982; 
cf. Itani 1979). Systematic confrontation and killing be- 
tween troops of free-ranging chimpanzees have been 
well documented at two research sites and have been 
the subject of considerable professional interest. At 
Gombe, a chimpanzee group that had split off from an- 
other was systematically exterminated by members of 
the latter over a period of five years (Goodall et al. 1979; 
Goodall 1 98 6: chap. 17). During this period, all five adult 
males and one female from the victim group were appar- 
ently killed by the intruders. (Several of these kills were 
conclusively documented.) Remaining females were ab- 
sorbed into the victorious group. During this process, 
the home range of the victims was systematically occu- 
pied for foraging by the intruders. After the old group 
was exterminated, the new larger group itself became 
subject to predation — by another adjacent chimpanzee 
troop to the south — and was forced to contract its home 
range from 17 to 6 km^ over four years,- the deaths of at 
least two infants and one adult male are suspected to 
have been caused by the invaders. At Mahale, a chim- 
panzee group gradually became extinct as a social, geo- 
graphic, and breeding unit over a period of 1 5 years,- dur- 
ing this period all seven of its adult males died without 
replacement (Nishida 1979, Nishida et al. 1985). In- 
tergroup fights, woundings, and the sudden disappear- 
ance of several prime adult males strongly suggest that 
as many of six of these deaths were brought about vio- 
lently by an adjacent group. As the number of males was 
reduced, females were incorporated gradually and later 
en masse into the intruding group. Correspondingly, the 
territory of the victim group was absorbed by the in- 

Chimpanzee males in particular monitor the periph- 

eral areas of their home range. This is undertaken 
through distinctive patrolling behavior, characterized by 
''cautious, silent travel during which the members of 
the party tend to move in a compact group'' (Goodall 
1986:490). Animals on patrol carefully watch and listen 
for evidence of occupation by outsiders and suppress all 
normal calls among themselves. This pattern alters dra 
matically if individuals from the adjacent group are en- 
countered. Males and anestrous females are aggressively 
intimidated and, if alone, violently attacked or effec- 
tively ''hunted" by the coordinated effort of several 
males in the patrol. Once seized, the individual may be 
beaten and bitten until wounded or dead. According to 
Goodall (1986:529), the five observed cases of lethal 
conspecific attack at Gombe have several features 
in common: 

(a) the attacks were all long — the shortest lasted at 
least ten minutes, and three continued more than 
twice as long; (b) all were gang attacks, during 
which the aggressors sometimes assaulted the vic- 
tim one after the other, or two to five assailed the 
victim simultaneously,- (c) all the victims were, at 
some point, held to the ground by one or more of 
the aggressors while others hit and pounded,- (d) all 
the victims, in addition to being hit, stamped on, 
and bitten, were dragged first in one direction, then 
another . . . and [g] during each incident the observ- 
ers, all thoroughly experienced in chimpanzee be- 
havior, believed that the aggressors were trying to 
kill their victims. . . . [This is] because the attackers 
showed some of the patterns which, while com- 
monly seen during the killing of large prey, have not 
been seen during irztr^^ community fighting — as when 
one of Goliath's legs was twisted, when a strip of 
flesh was torn from De's thigh, or when Satan drank 
the blood pouring from Sniff's nose. 

There are several possible causes for such intergroup 
killings. In the Gombe study area, there was some evi- 
dence of added resource pressure — caused by land en- 
croachment by humans — that may have exacerbated ag- 
gression and violence (Goodall 1986:51). The degree of 
land impingement, however, has not been judged severe 
enough to explain such severe and persistent violence. 
Goodall (198 6: chap. 17) concludes that chimpanzees are 
a territorial species and that land areas are defended and 
contested by males, even though these territories have 
no fixed boundaries and need not be continually occu- 
pied by their possessors. A further cause of chimpanzee 
intergroup aggression is the enhanced sexual access and 
reproductive success of males in the invading group. 
Group annihilation need not greatly affect population 
density for very long; while the number of males and 
infants is temporarily depressed, the transfer of repro- 
ductive females to the new group quickly facilitates re- 
population of the area (Nishida etal. 1985:298). The ad- 
ditional food resources of the newly occupied territory 
aid in this process. Given these reproductive enhance- 
ments, intergroup violence by chimpanzee males ap- 
pears subject to strong natural selection. 

KNAUFT Violence and Sociality in Human Evolution \ 405 

This conclusion is supported by broadly similar rela- 
tionships between social organization and intergroup vi- 
olence in Gombe and Mahale. Several cases have been 
observed in which infants from outsider groups have 
been seized, killed, and even eaten by males of an op- 
posed group. The mother in such instances not infre- 
quently joins the males of the attacking group, resumes 
sexual cycling, and becomes receptive for mating with 
her new male companions. There is obviously strong 
selective advantage for males in killing infants sired in 
other groups and then reproductively appropriating the 
recycling mothers for themselves (as also occurs quite 
dramatically among gorillas). Sexually receptive females 
are usually tolerated peacefully when encountered by 
males of adjacent chimpanzee groups, and immigrant 
females tend to be quite sexually active in this context 
(Hasegawa 1989). 

Bonobos appear to be somewhat less agonistic than 
chimpanzees in irztr^^group relations, and recent evi- 
dence suggests that their intergroup relations are corre- 
spondingly less aggressive (Kano 1990). Nonetheless, 
those few bonobo intergroup confrontations observed in- 
cluded competitive vocal displays, withdrawal of the 
smaller party, and one violent incident causing ''serious 
injuries to several individuals'' (Kano and Mulavwa 
1984:265; see Kano 1984b, Badrian and Badrian 1984). 
Long-term trends of bonobo intergroup relationship have 
not yet been documented. Given that many years of ob- 
servation among chimpanzees were necessary before the 
extent of intergroup aggression could be established, no 
firm conclusion can yet be drawn concerning the fre- 
quency and severity of bonobo intergroup violence 
(Wrangham 1987:66; de Waal 1989:221, quoted above). 
It does appear, however, that a relatively rich resource 
habitat, relative lack of predation, and intragroup social 
bonds facilitated by diffuse and frequent sexual encoun- 
ters combine to minimize intergroup contact and in- 
tergroup aggression among bonobos (Kano 1990, Blount 

With the apparent and/or partial exception of bonobos, 
then, the evidence suggests that intergroup violence 
among great apes is both pronounced and highly related 
to reproductive success. The chimpanzee pattern in par- 
ticular has certain features in common with ethnocen- 
tric and aggressive intergroup encounters in human sed- 
entary and pastoral prestate societies (see Boehm n.d.a), 
and this pattern contrasts significantly with the more 
flexible and cooperative intergroup dynamics of simple 
human societies. Several authors, including Wrangham 
(1987; Manson and Wrangham 1991), Foley (1988:219; 
cf. Foley and Lee 1989), and Ghiglieri (1987, 1989), have 
attempted to draw a parallel between the patrifocal so- 
cial organization of the great apes (though bonobos are a 
partial exception) and the social organization of prestate 
humans in general. As Barnard (1983:196-97) has 
shown, however, the notion of the patrilocal band 
among human foragers is ''empirically groundless,'' be- 
ing based on the legacy of the early and erroneous — if 
influential — typologies of Steward (1936) and Service 
(1971, 1979): "New generations of scholars gave the 

coup de grace to the patrilocal model [of hunter-gatherer 
band organization]. All over the world, societies of small 
community size were shown to be neither essentially 
virilocal nor patrilineal in any sense. 'Flux,' 'flexibility,' 
and 'fluidity' became the . . . words to describe their 
social organization (see Lee and DeVore 1984:7-12)." Of 
particular relevance here is his criticism of the Human 
Relations Area Files study by Ember (1978), which sug- 
gested that hunter-gatherers were typically patrilocal 
and prone to warfare; he finds this suggestion untenable 
given "the inaccuracy of the early ethnographies on 
which her Ethnographic Atlas sample is based" (p. 197). 

Manson and Wrangham's recent study (1991) is to a 
certain extent an advance. On the one hand, it distin- 
guishes between groups of foragers in terms of the pres- 
ence or absence of significant alienable property (cf. 
Testart 1982, 1985) and documents that intergroup vio- 
lence more frequently occurs over resources in the for- 
mer category. This finding is consistent with the present 
analysis. However, Manson and Wrangham rely on Em- 
ber's (1978) analysis of forager warfare and appear to 
adopt her biased assessment of forager patrilocality (see, 
similarly, Foley 1989:487-88). Consequently, they posit 
a similarity between prestate human social organiza- 
tional patterns and chimpanzee patterns of male philo- 
patry (males breeding within their natal groups) and vio- 
lent male attacks on outside groups (cf. also Otterbein 
1985 :xxi; Ghiglieri 1987, 1989). These pongid patterns 
may provide an analogy with some sedentary human 
societies and complex hunter-gatherers, but they are 
highly questionable as a model for simpler human 
groups. ^^ 

To illustrate the importance of delimiting the sample 
of simpler human societies from more complex hunter- 
gatherers, a subset of the 563 societies in Murdock's 
(1981) Atlas of World Cultures was defined in terms of 
[a] absence of agriculture, significant animal domestica- 
tion, and primary subsistence reliance on fishing (i.e., o 
in Murdock's col. 7, pts. 4 and 5, 0-4 in col. 3, and o in 
col. 39) and [b] absence of significant sociopolitical class 
distinctions (o in col. 67). Of the resulting 39 societies, 
71.8% (28/39) were rated by Murdock as having an "ab- 
sence of any patrilineal kin groups and also of patrilineal 
exogamy" (o in col. 20). In contrast, 59.0% had cognatic 
kin groups recognizing ambilineal or bilateral descent (B 
or K in col. 24). Only 25.6% (10/39) were rated as exhib- 
iting patrilocal residence (P in col. 16), the remainder 
being characterized as practicing various combinations 
of ambilocal and uxorilocal residence or virilocal resi- 
dence "confined to instances where the husband's pat- 
rikin are not aggregated in patrilocal and patrilineal kin 
groups." These trends would probably have been still 
more pronounced if cases based on somewhat question- 
able older data had been excluded and if a less rigid ty- 

13. Stanford and Allen (1991:59) cogently criticize several recently 
proposed models of human behavioral evolution as being chimp- 
anzee-referent models couched in Darwinian terms to give the ap- 
pearance of a broader evolutionary perspective. 

4o6 I CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Voluuie 32, Number 4, August- October 1991 

pology of residential types had been used.^"^ These find- 
ings are consistent with ethnographic suggestions above 
that social organization and residence tend to be shift- 
ing, open, and flexible among nonintensive foragers. 
Available evidence thus supports the conclusion that 
fraternal interest groups and the kind of violence associ- 
ated with them are seldom of importance in simple hu- 
man societies. 

Overall Patterns of Sociality and Violence 

In simple human societies, strong emphasis is placed 
on cooperative sociality both within and between flexi- 
bly constituted groups. Cultural values and behavior 
strongly indicate sharing of valuable food items and ma- 
terial property, flexible access to resources, and exten- 
sion of sociality through diffuse networks of classi- 
ficatory kinship, namesake, totemic, and/or trade 
partnerships. Both within and between groups, rates of 
aggression are low. The aggression that does occur, how- 
ever, has a relatively high probability of resulting in 
homicide, with dispute resolution measures other than 
dispersal undeveloped. Violence in simple human socie- 
ties is generally unrelated to disputes over material prop- 
erty, territory, competitive leadership interests, status 
hierarchy, or opposition between corporate or ethnic 
groups; it is often if indirectly related to sexual disputes. 
While adult male competition over sexual access to 
women is to a significant extent controlled by cultural 
rules of pair-bonded sexual union within extended 
multimale/multifemale social groups, disputes over sex- 
uality, when they do erupt, often result in severe vio- 
lence within the band or larger community. However, 
the killings that result are often not an effective way to 
gain a new spouse or lover. 

In middle-range societies, by contrast, violence is re- 
lated to frequent disputes over male dominance and po- 
litical status hierarchy and sometimes also to conflicts 
over property and territorial resources. Aggressively 
achieved male status domination is more likely to result 
in increased access to mates and/or polygyny. Middle- 
range societies also tend toward a stronger ethic of com- 
petitive virility linked to positive valuation of male as- 
sertiveness and aggression in gender relations, politics, 
and warfare. Violence between corporate or ethnic 
groups is more frequently collective, more often occurs 
between fraternal interest groups, and is more frequently 
reciprocated in raiding or warfare than in simple socie- 
ties. Ongoing blood feuds are relatively common. All of 
these features vary in complex ways and correlate with 
various social structural and socialization factors (M. 
Ross 1985, 1986; Otterbein 1980, 1985; Knauft 1990b). 

Known socialization practices are consistent with 

14. If Australian Aboriginal societies (which, as we have seen, are 
exceptional among nonintensive foragers in a variety of ways) are 
excluded, the Murdock-ranked percentage of simple societies lack- 
ing patrilineal kin groups increases to 83.9% (26/31), the percent- 
age having cognatic kin groups increases to 74.2% (23/31), and 
the percentage lacking patrilocal residence increases to 87.1% 

these broad contrasts. Simple societies have been consis- 
tently noted as particularly indulgent and nonpunitive 
in their child-rearing and adolescent socialization prac- 
tices, including a high degree of supportive paternal as 
well as maternal contact with young children (see gener- 
ally Leacock and Lee 1982:8; West and Konner 1976; 
Konner 1981; [Mbuti] TurnbuU 1978, Tronick, Morella, 
and Winn 1987, Hewlett 1990; [IKung] Draper 1978, 
Marshall 1976; [Semai] Dentan 1978, Robarchek 1977; 
[Inuit] Briggs 1970, 1978, 1982). In contrast, child rearing 
and adolescent socialization in small-scale sedentary so- 
cieties tend on the whole to be relatively harsher and 
more punitive, including a greater frequency of trau- 
matic male initiations (cf. Rohner 1980, Lambert 1971, 
Whiting and Whiting 1975). Paige and Paige (1981:77) 
conclude on the basis of detailed cross-cultural study 
that ''in societies in which there are stable and valuable 
economic resources, strong fraternal interest groups are 
likely to develop, and the dilemmas posed by the major 
events of the human reproductive cycle are responded 
to by the form of ritual bargaining characterized . . . 
as surveillance rituals.'' These conditions maximize a 
group's ''ability to make explicit bargains concerning 
women and children and to protect such bargains 
through military action of a large and loyal political fac- 
tion" (pp. 76-77)' 

These trends are influenced by the socialization capac- 
ities afforded by the larger size of residential age cohorts 
in aggregated sedentary communities. Children in sim- 
ple societies have few age mates and tend to play in 
multiage and cross-sex groups, with few rigid boundaries 
among them. In larger sedentary communities, there are 
greater numbers of same-sex age cohorts and greater 
potentials for age-grading and formation of interest 
groups. Age-cohort differentiation can occur not only 
in adult male leadership but in child-child social- 
ization, with age-cohorts of older boys socializing and 
not infrequently dominating their juniors and with sex- 
segregated play and socialization becoming more com- 
mon. Not surprisingly, age-sex status differentiation and 
accompanying relations of social inequality are frequent 
mechanisms for developing strong warriors among the 
male initiate class (e.g., Langness 1974, Allen 1967). 

Among great apes the most severe forms of violence 
appear related to enhanced sexual access and reproduc- 
tive success for male victors. In all great-ape species for 
which data are available, defeating male competitors 
systematically increases the winner's sexual access to 
receptive females. Killing the female's offspring sired by 
another male brings the female more quickly into es- 
trus. Females commonly gravitate to such successful 
males of their own volition, and in this sense male vio- 
lence is actively selected for through females as well as 
through males. Among chimpanzees, extermination or 
dispersal of competitive males may also increase the 
home range of the victorious males, thus increasing 
their access to food resources and the nutritional fitness 
of themselves, their mates, and their progeny. Coali- 
tional male violence among chimpanzees benefits coali- 
tion members by intimidating and/or eliipinating attack 
targets both within and between groups. Among orang- 

KNAUFT Violence and Sociality in Human Evolution \ 407 

utans and gorillas, violence is pursued by adult males 
only as individuals, and selection thus operates directly 
in promoting large male size. Whereas sexual dimor- 
phism is pronounced among single-male gorilla and 
orangutan breeding groups and a high testes -size/body- 
weight ratio occurs among chimpanzees (whose social 
organization includes promiscuous multimale mating), 
humans have neither of these crucial indices of male 
sexual competition. In the context of multimale mating 
groups, this suggests that cultural rules may have re- 
duced male sexual competition in human evolution. 

Among bonobos, the incidence of nonaggressive food 
transfer is relatively high, male dominance and sexual 
competition appear relatively undeveloped, sexual di- 
morphism is low (Zihlman and Cramer 1978), and in- 
tergroup aggression, though not yet thoroughly investi- 
gated, may be somewhat lower than among other great 
apes. These and other aspects of bonobo organization 
have been considered suggestive in modeling the behav- 
ior patterns of early humans (see Susman 1984, 1987; 
Furuichi 1989). The present analysis supports this view 
but points to major qualitative differences between bo- 
nobos and the simplest human societies (see also Blount 
1990). Bonobo patterns of diffuse sexuality and use of 
sexual contact as an appeasement strategy contrast 
sharply with the rule-governed and restricted patterns of 
mating in simple human societies. Bonobo food sharing 
is tacit rather than active, and relative lack of aggression 
is due as much to a plentiful environment and relative 
freedom from predation as to a propensity for coopera- 
tive social interaction. The actively cooperative social- 
ity of early humans in a predator-rich savannah environ- 
ment was probably significantly different from and 
much more strongly selected for than the patterns of 
affiliative sociality found among bonobos. As has often 
been noted, no single species is apt to provide an ade- 
quate model of early human social organization. 


Patterns of sociality and violence are in certain formal 
respects similar among great apes and middle-range hu- 
man societies but systematically different among simple 
human societies. Male competition in resource control, 
dominance hierarchy, overt competition over sexual ac- 
cess to females (including polygynous mating), and com- 
petitive defense of the social group are all arguably 
greater among both great apes and middle-range socie- 
ties than among the simplest human societies. 

This comparison is based on superficial analogy; in- 
deed, the divergence of simple societies from these 
trends underscores that correspondences between great- 
ape and middle-range human societies are not homolo- 
gies based on phylogenetic continuity through human 
evolution (contrast Wrangham 1987; Ghiglieri 1987, 
1989; Foley and Lee 1989; Tooby and DeVore 1987). 
Thus, no assumption can be made of uninterrupted evo- 
lutionary progression from primate patterns to those 
found in human ''tribal,'' much less state, societies (con- 
trast Otterbein i985:xxii, Bigelow 1975,- Eibl-Eibesfeldt 

1979; Popp and DeVore 1979; Chagnon 1979, 1988). 
That the evolutionary period characterized by simple 
human societies may have been many times longer than 
that characterized by middle-range ones suggests that 
findings about violence and sociality based on selected 
case studies of the latter may be limited in their evolu- 
tionary implications (e.g., Chagnon 1988). 

The present analysis recontextualizes Wrangham's 
(1987:68) assessment, based in part on a lumping of sim- 
ple with more complex human societies, that the com- 
mon ancestor of humans had ''closed social networks, 
hostile and male-dominated intergroup relationships 
with stalk-and-attack interactions, female exogamy and 
no alliances between females, and males having sexual 
relationships with more than one female.'' This and 
similar arguments by Ghiglieri (1987, 1989), by Foley 
(1988:217-19) for late Pleistocene H. sapiens sapiens, 
and by Manson and Wrangham (i 991) for human evolu- 
tion generally are here countered by distinguishing be- 
tween simple and more complex human societies as 
points of primatological comparison and by reasoning 
"backward" rather than "forward" in evolutionary 
time — projecting simple human society traits into the 
evolution of H. sapiens and perhaps Homo generally 
rather than projecting nonhuman primate tendencies 
forward into hominid and then equally into human evo- 

Nonhuman primate models of human social evolution 
are likely more applicable to early hominids than to hu- 
mans. Conversely, models based on simple societies are 
likely to have greater relevance for H. sapiens and per- 
haps for Homo generally. Rather than reduce these to 
competing species-archetype models, however, it is im- 
portant to address the question how and over what 
period of time the distinctive features of human cul- 
tural transmission and corresponding social alteration 
emerged. From the present perspective, the evolution of 
Homo is likely to have proceeded in large part among 
groups that had relatively open social networks, nonhos- 
tile intergroup interactions, and a significant degree of 
institutionalized if not monogamous pair bonding. More 
generally, the distinctive "cooperative niche" discern- 
ible in simple human societies needs to be considered 
alongside the "social carnivore niche" and the "cogni- 
tive niche" that are so often attributed to them in mod- 
els of hominid evolution (Knauft 1988, 1989(3; Ingold 
1987; Carrithers 1990; cf. Foley 1982, 1984; Hill 1982; 
Tooby and DeVore 1987). That cultural rules of coopera- 
tion are pronounced in such societies does not preclude 
violence, but it does facilitate patterns of sociality and 
diffuse sharing that may have been characteristic of a 
large portion of our genus's evolution. Generalizations 
about human societal evolution are easily biased by 
HRAF samples weighted heavily with middle-range so- 
cieties, which are far more numerous in the ethno- 
graphic record than simple ones though they have per- 
sisted for a much shorter period of evolutionary time. 

The present model is not intended as a definitive or 
an exclusive alternative to others, and it is itself self- 
defeating in that it uses static types such as "simple 
societies" to argue for developmental changes in pat- 

4o8 I CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Voluuie 32, Number 4, August-October 1991 

terns of sociality and violence in the course of human 
evolution. If these patterns have indeed changed, it is 
hardly to be expected that they were static within the 
category of ''simple societies'' itself. It could be, for in- 
stance, that patterns of violence and sociality among late 
Pleistocene hunters of periglacial Eurasia, who were 
highly dependent on very large game (offering the poten- 
tial for large aggregations of consuming foragers and siz- 
able frozen food stores), were somewhat more like those 
among complex hunter-gatherers than were those of 
foragers relying more on dispersed floral resources 
and smaller game (cf. Foley 1988:217-19; Mellars 
i989b:356-57). More generally, the difference between 
simple- and complex-forager patterns of violence and so- 
ciality may parallel differences in resource concentra- 
tion or population aggregation that potentiate them. 
Highly decentralized, nonintensive foraging adaptations 
are, on a global scale, likely to be both underrepresented 
in the archeological record and subject to less scholarly 
interest than the relatively dramatic material assem- 
blages of more socioeconomically complex prehistoric 
groups, but the bulk of our genus's evolution was spent 
as simple foragers. 

The range of variation within the category of nonin- 
tensive foragers has in fact been underemphasized here, 
in part for the sake of brevity and in part to highlight 
larger, more pronounced, and more neglected aggregate 
differences. That the delayed-return reciprocity systems, 
male status distinctions, patrilocality, polygyny, and 
conflict between fraternal interest groups found in some 
Australian Aboriginal societies are rare or absent among 
nonintensive hunter-gatherers elsewhere suggests that 
this cluster of traits may among simple societies be an 
Australian isolate (cf. Testart 1988). The range of varia- 
tion in great-ape and middle-range societies, if anything 
even more evident from observational data, is likewise 
collapsed here for the sake of illuminating larger evolu- 
tionary trends. Like any other evolutionary typology, 
this one is useful as a heuristic device to stimulate dis- 
confirmation and promote more sophisticated and re- 
fined hypotheses (see Upham 1990(3:88-91). 

Despite inevitable problems, the comparative assess- 
ment of empirical data from great-ape and simple- and 
middle-range human societies is crucial. Lately, the rele- 
vance of these findings has typically been viewed in 
terms of neo-Darwinian assumptions of individualis- 
tic competition. It has been suggested here that the 
strengths of evolutionary biology and behavioral ecology 
should be complemented by a fuller and more sensitive 
consideration of symbolic transmission and cultural 
rules of cooperation in human evolution. In this regard, 
humans may indeed be unique. 


Rodseth et al.'s (1991) suggestions about human social 
organization, derived from extensive cross-species com- 
parison with nonhuman primates, are in important ways 
both convergent with and divergent from the findings 

of the present analysis. The similarities and differences 
reveal important possibilities for further research and 
theory building. 

This paper's findings are consistent with Rodseth et 
al.'s statement that ''humans are unique in the extent 
to which both males and females form affiliative rela- 
tionships, with nonkin as well as kin, both within and 
between groups" (p. 232) and their assessment that hu- 
mans are unique in forging alliances through systematic 
exchange of mates, e.g., that intergroup affinity among 
humans should be "appreciated as a unique and revolu- 
tionary primate pattern" (p. 237). They differ, however, 
with regard to the suggestion that human social organi- 
zation consists of closed or semiclosed groups that tend 
toward male philopatry (males breeding within their na- 
tal groups) and fraternal interest groups. As we have 
seen, such generalizations [a] collapse middle-range or 
"tribal" society patterns with those of simple societies, 
[b] rely on Ember's (1978) skewed cross-cultural analy- 
sis, and (c) tend to project nonhuman primate patterns of 
violence and social organization onto humans. Alliances 
among local groups in simple human societies tend to 
be highly flexible and shifting, importantly including 
coresidence among adult male affines for significant pe- 
riods of time.^^ 

In the social organization of the common ancestor of 
apes and humans, a tension could plausibly have existed 
between chimpanzee-like patterns of male philopatry 
and selective pressures for more open, dispersed, and 
flexible alliances, and such tension may have been 
played out and resolved differentially in the several com- 
peting australopithecine species (Foley 1989:487-89). By 
the time of Homo's development and the progressive 
elaboration of human cultural transmission, however, 
development may have turned decisively away from 
male philopatry and closed fraternal interest groupings 
and toward more open and more flexible social net- 

Elaborate symbolic communication and cultural 
transmission were likely crucial in maintaining the pat- 
tern of diffuse alliance in the absence of ongoing spatial 
proximity that Rodseth et al. rightly emphasize. This 
dovetails with the elaboration of cultural constraints 
upon domestic behavior to maintain exclusive sexual 
bonds in the face of diurnal dispersion/reunion and a 
sexual division of labor. From Rodseth et al.'s perspec- 
tive, "the problem . . would not be how early hominids 
came to avoid incest or how one sex came to breed in 
other groups but how exclusive sexual bonds evolved 
from a chimpanzee-like pattern of promiscuity" (p. 237). 

1 5 . This conclusion is nicely developed through detailed empirical 
analysis for the Mbuti by Terashima (1985; cf. also Pedersen and 
Woehle 1988) in contrast to the more simplistic residential catego- 
rization of Bailey and Aunger (1990). The characterization of early 
human social organization as largely male philopatric, closed or 
semiclosed, and divided into fraternal interest groups rests uneasily 
with the other features of Rodseth et al.'s own analysis, which 
would appear to emphasize the distinctive openness of human so- 
cial networks. This implicit tension appears to force an expansion 
of the notion of fraternal interest to accommodate even matrilocal 
alliances, making the "interest group" hardly "fjratemal" at all. 

KNAUFT Violence and Sociality in Human Evolution \ 409 

My intuition is that, given the geometric decrease 
of genetic relatedness with genealogical distance, 
inclusive-fitness benefits are insufficient to outweigh 
the threats to pair-bonded sexual exclusivity and to male 
parental investment posed by sexual cheating in a regu- 
larly dispersing forager group of 25-50 persons — even if 
the males of the group are all agnatically related.^^ In 
other words, an independent force of cultural as opposed 
to biogenetic selection is needed. Wrangham's perspec- 
tive could be construed as supporting such an assess- 
ment insofar as it suggests that language was likely cru- 
cial as an aspect of absentee mate-guarding — i.e., that 
nonsymbolic behavior-selection variables were by them- 
selves insufficient to maintain such a mating system. 
This raises the question how a uniquely human rule- 
influenced mating system could have evolved. 

It will be important to develop competing analyses of 
the likely timing and extent of cultural development in 
humans. My own analysis, which emphasizes the poten- 
tial for group selection that cultural transmission af- 
fords, predicts that from an early period in human evolu- 
tion there is a crucial and driving opposition between 
cultural and biogenetic selection processes. Durham's 
( 1 991: chap. 8) fruitfully competing hypothesis is that 
cultural and biogenetic selection processes, while oppos- 
able in principle, tend in the main to support each other 
in fact. To me this seems to give too little attention 
to the significant conflict between group-level and 
individual-level selection and the increasing gap be- 
tween fast rates of symbolic dissemination and slower 
rates of differential biogenetic reproduction. This is ob- 
viously an area for further study and refinement. An at- 
tempt has been made here to characterize the opening 
stages of this relationship, addressing issues that Rod- 
seth et al. independently raise by implication but do not 
directly consider. 

Cross-species analyses can indeed be valuable, and 
Rodseth et al. are to be congratulated for illuminating 
key overall differences in the social organization of hu- 
mans and nonhuman primates. With humans in particu- 
lar, however, one must be wary of assuming continuity 
of social organization across the evolving spectrum of 
socioeconomic intensification. As Rodseth et al. recog- 
nize (fig. 3), their own analysis can in principle be re- 
fined to include patterns of intraspecific organizational 
variation. There are, however, some intrinsic limits to 
such a procedure. Considering humans only in sociobe- 
havioral terms makes it difficult to give adequate con- 
sideration to the distinctive dynamics of human sym- 
bolic transmission and the selective effects of this 
transmission upon subsequent evolutionary develop- 
ment. An analysis of symbolic dynamics as well as so- 
cioecological patterns is therefore crucial in the study of 
human evolution. 

16. This issue can perhaps be illuminated through mathematical 



Department of Anthropology, University of Waterloo, 
Waterloo, Ont, Canada NiL 3G1. 10 iv 91 

Knauf t has made a significant contribution to our under- 
standing of violence and warfare in an evolutionary con- 
text. The breadth of his paper is such that I lack confi- 
dence to comment on all its arguments,- these 
comments will focus on his interpretation of warfare 
and violence in non-state human societies. Incidentally, 
contrary to an oft-expressed opinion (as in Foster and 
Rubinstein i986:xii), the bibliography of the anthropol- 
ogy of warfare is lengthy and contains numerous works 
of high quality (Ferguson and Farragher 1988; see also 
Ferguson 1984b). While I agree with the general tone of 
Knauf t's paper and with his conclusions, there are sev- 
eral major areas where I would question his analysis. 

I applaud Knauft's analytical category of ''simple hu- 
man societies.'' Too many fish and fowl (or, rather, 
fishers and fowlers) have been lumped together as ''for- 
agers'' or "band societies." Knauf t, however, contrasts 
these with "middle-range societies," and surely the di- 
versity among societies in this group is far greater than 
that among foraging peoples. His emphasis on fraternal 
interest groups in this category ignores the many such 
societies that are matrilineal and matrilocal (Divale 
1974, 1984). It also ignores the egalitarian ideology, the 
absence of statuses possessing authority, and the nature 
of leadership in many of these societies (see Trigger 
1990). Knauft's characterization of "middle-range" soci- 
eties emphasizes those with social ranking (those we 
used to and occasionally still call "chiefdoms"). To be 
fair to him, he phrases these characteristics in evolu- 
tionary terms, seeing these institutions as developing. 
However, as Mann (1986:67) has observed, "movement 
toward rank and political authority seems endemic but 
reversible" (my emphasis); ambitious elites that attempt 
to impose authority frequently find themselves deposed 
or simply with no subjects, the egalitarian-minded popu- 
lation having moved elsewhere. 

Also troubling is a failure to consider the effect of state 
or imperial expansion (both military and economic) on 
"middle-range societies" (see Wolf 1982, Ferguson and 
Whitehead n.d.). Frequency of violence and warfare is 
doubtless greatly increased by desire for trade, displace- 
ment of populations, ecological disruption, employment 
as allies by neighboring states, etc.; one can point to 
analyses of Iroquois history by Hunt (1940) and Trelease 
(1962) and to explanations of warfare on the North 
American grasslands (Newcomb 1950). Any state expan- 
sion has an impact on its neighbors, but European impe- 
rialism has had a strong effect on our ethnographic sam- 
ple. Parker's (1988:115) observation on the early stages 
of European expansion is telling: "The principal export 
of pre-industrial Europe to the rest of the world was vio- 

This ignoring of history also leaves open the question. 


CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Volume 32, Number 4, August- October 1991 

as Donald (1987) has noted in a critique of an earlier 
paper by Knauft, whether Knauft's ''simple human soci- 
eties'' are simply products of the marginal environments 
they exploit and the resulting low population densities. 
While ''simple human societies'' may be simpler than 
any others known to ethnography, they also may be 
simpler than those of earliest H. sapiens (or even 
earlier Homo) known only from the archaeological 

I also feel it is incorrect to see, as Knauft does, "simi- 
larities, or at least analogies," between polygyny and the 
mating patterns of a silverback male gorilla. Marriage is 
much more than simple coresidence and sexual access. 
The multiple spouses of elites may relate much more to 
politics than to sex. Marriage also does not guarantee 
exclusive sexual access to one's spouse. The Tiwi (Hart 
and Pilling i960) are a classic example of a society in 
which multiple marriages are linked to the high status 
accorded elderly males whose prime days for fathering 
children are long past. 


Evolution and Human Behavior Program, University 
of Michigan, looH Rackham, Ann Arbor, Mich. 
48109, U.S.A. 15 IV 91 

Culture is keeping the Gebusi from behaving adaptively. 
For the second time in four years, Bruce Knauft has 
made that case in CA. For the second time, I'm not con- 
vinced (Knauft 1987, Betzig 1988). 

Knauft draws parallels among great-ape societies, 
"simple" human societies, and "middle-range" human 
societies. He looks at conflict — dominance within and 
violence between groups. He looks at cooperation — food 
sharing and other forms of affiliation. And he looks at 
reproduction — which males get more females and, prob- 
ably, father more young. And he draws this conclusion: 
Among apes and in middle-range human societies, dom- 
inance and violence among males are positively related 
to reproductive success, but among simple people like 
the Gebusi, neither dominance nor violence increases 
fitness. In Gebusi and other simple societies, culture tri- 
umphs over nature; an ethic of cooperation wins out 
over genes for conflict. 

What's wrong with this argument? Two things, at 
least. First, it's not at all clear that dominance and vio- 
lence in simple human societies are not related to repro- 
duction. In fact, what work has been done suggests that 
they are. Hewlett (1988), for example, found that Aka 
Pygmy leaders are more than twice as polygynous as 
other men and tend to father more children. Qualitative 
statements are consistent. Osgood (1958:200, 203), for 
instance, noted that "powerful" Ingalik men might ac- 
quire second wives and added that "a long time ago there 
was a fellow who had five wives at one time and seven 
at another. This man was a great fighter and had ob- 
tained his women by raiding." As Lee's interviews of 
the !Kung, which Knauft reviews, suggest, a killer may 

not always get the girl — that day — but even if he 
doesn't he may gain the resources or respect that help 
him get another woman on another occasion. Darwin 
(1871:896) wrote long ago that "polygamy ... is almost 
universally followed by the leading men." As Knauft 
rather grudgingly admits, this seems to be true in 
middle-range societies (Betzig 1986); it seems too to be 
true in ancient (Betzig n.d.a) and medieval (Betzig n.d.b) 
societies, and it may even be true among "simples" (e.g., 
Hewlett 1988) and moderns (e.g.. Low n.d.). 

Second, I think that the importance of cooperation 
among most people and primates is underplayed. As 
Knauft writes, and as others have written, food sharing 
can be essential in simple human societies faced with 
environmental uncertainty and risk. But food sharing is 
ubiquitously human,- redistribution is everywhere, from 
the smallest band to the biggest state. And other kinds 
of cooperation are crucial among other primates. As do 
humans, apes cooperate, at least, in order to compete. If 
food sharing or some other kind of cooperation helps 
keep sharers alive, helps them get mates, and helps them 
raise children, then cooperation should be as "natural" 
as the kinds of conflicts that can, under different condi- 
tions, be a means to reproduction. Again, the evidence 
that I'm aware of suggests that it is. Kaplan and Hill 
(1985b) found that better Ache hunters attract more ex- 
tramarital mates, father more children, and raise more 
of them than poorer hunters (see also Hill and Kaplan 
1988). And again, qualitative conclusions are consistent. 
Marshall (1959:346), for instance, wrote that among the 
!Kung "the number of wives a man may have is not 
regulated by social rules but by his ability to obtain and 
support them." And Jenness (1922:161) pointed out that 
a Copper Eskimo polygynist "must be a man of great 
energy and skill in hunting, bold and unscrupulous, al- 
ways ready to assert himself and uphold his position by 
an appeal to force." There should, in short, be genes for 
cooperation as well as for competition; both should be 
naturally selected when they increase their bearers' re- 

One bone that Knauft picks, that correspondences be- 
tween ape and human societies may reflect "homologies 
based on phylogenetic continuity through human evolu- 
tion," seems to me unlikely to stand up to much if any 
evidence or theory. Species are, by definition, set apart 
by enough evolutionary time to allow for significant 
change. It seems reasonable, then, to suspect that simi- 
larities between them exist because similar behaviors 
have been adaptive under similar conditions rather than 
because phylogenetic legacies made them persist against 
selective force. And it seems ironic that the idea that 
"culture" has to win over "nature" is more guilty of 
this kind of homology than the "assumptions of current 
sociobiological reasoning" often are. 

Having begun with an attack, I'll end with a little 
reconciliation: Few problems are as interesting or as im- 
portant as lethal conflict. Both Knauft's study of Gebusi 
homicide and this review of killing, etc., in apes and 
humans are packed with interesting — and potentially 
very important — information. I appreciate that. 

KNAUFT Violence and Sociality in Human Evolution \ 411 


Department of Anthropology, Northern Kentucky 
University, Highland Heights, Ky. 41076, U.S.A. 
16 IV 91 

This is an astute and wide-ranging synthesis. A signifi- 
cant contribution is the emphasis placed on the evolu- 
tionary anomaly that one faces if one begins with the 
great apes and ends with modern humans, concentrating 
on what might be called agonistic style. The glaring dis- 
continuity comes, of course, with egalitarian societies, 
that is, societies in which leadership is unassuming and 
hierarchy among adult males is weakly developed. The 
discontinuity is as follows: African great apes and hu- 
man societies at the chiefdom level and higher exhibit 
pronounced male dominance hierarchies, while egalitar- 
ian societies exhibit the opposite (see Boehm 1982, 
1984b). This well-known ''egalitarian'' type has come to 
include foraging societies but also many sedentary ones, 
among them segmentary societies with rather high pop- 
ulation densities and warfare. 

Knauft confronts anthropologists interested in social 
evolution and warfare with an absolutely critical dis- 
tinction within this rather diffuse class, that between 
simple and complex foragers. In pondering the apparent 
evolutionary riddle of the contrast between the simple 
foragers who long typified human political organization 
and both African great-ape and centralized human socie- 
ties, anthropologists must, I think, look much more 
closely at the leveling factors that make small-scale hu- 
man societies ''egalitarian.'' So far, causes of leveling 
among males have been found mostly in ecological fac- 
tors or in the dynamics of social or economic systems 
(e.g.. Fried 1967); to my knowledge only Lee (1979), 
Woodburn (1982), and I (Boehm 1982, 1984(3, b) have 
argued that egalitarian society is a direct result of hu- 
man intentions. 

One way to consider the role of intentions in simple 
foraging and other egalitarian societies is to start with 
the genotype: I assume in a common ape-ancestor a sig- 
nificant disposition to form hierarchies, since this is 
present in African great apes and modern humans. One 
then asks what cultural behaviors might account for the 
absence of hierarchy in simple foragers, assuming that 
they too share that disposition. The answer would ap- 
pear to be that humans deliberately create and carefully 
maintain "reverse dominance hierarchies" (Boehm 
1984b, n.d.) whereby the potentially subordinate adult 
males — the rank and file — band together assertively to 
limit the dominance of more aggressive or otherwise 
outstanding individuals. I have surveyed a large number 
of egalitarian societies (simple foragers, complex forag- 
ers, and many others) from various cultural areas and 
found evidence of such behavior. The result is far from 
an absence of male rivalry or inequality, but there is a 
sharply negative response if someone behaves too asser- 
tively or tries to control other males. This syndrome 
relates to personal autonomy: males will not counte- 
nance being "bossed around" (e.g., Woodburn 1979). 
Among Knauft's simple foragers it also involves the eq- 

uitable distribution of foodstuffs and, sometimes, 
women within a group that believes in cooperation and 

An evolutionary hypothesis would be that dominant 
egalitarian control of leaders arrived with the moral 
community (Boehm 1982), a socially manipulative group 
that is strongly (and often consensually) "judgmental." 
Such an argument has obvious relevance for coevolu- 
tionary theory. In effect, if a cultural behavior can sup- 
press selected aspects of a marked behavioral disposition 
such as the tendency to form dominance hierarchies, 
without even physically eliminating individuals who in- 
herit large doses of that disposition, then at the pheno- 
typic level a force set in motion by genetic selection is 
being powerfully and radically — but not permanently — 
transformed by cultural selection,- this is implemented 
through group decisions (see Boehm 1978). It is possible 
that this same reverse-dominance-hierarchy cultural be- 
havior is also modifying the gene pool, since males who 
overstep sometimes are executed. 

To explain the evolution of social behavior, we must 
choose wisely among extant models for prehistoric so- 
cial life, all of which have been problematic. Knauft has 
facilitated a major stride in this direction. Once the best 
possible model is chosen, evolutionary "triangulation" 
can be improved. For example, judging from the behavior 
of the African great apes, it sems likely that the common 
ancestor exhibited a decisive and forceful triadic- 
intervention style of conflict management within the 
group (Boehm n.d., Goodall 1986; see also de Waal 1982). 
By contrast, in Knauft's simple nomadic foragers very 
weak egalitarian leadership combined with an absence 
of effective institutions to mediate conflict can result in 
higher rates of intragroup homicide compared with 
those inferable for chimpanzees. However, Knauft over- 
emphasizes the fact that simple societies appear to take 
little interest in mediating conflicts. I think that a close 
reading of certain ethnographic accounts (e.g., von 
Fiirer-Haimendorf 1967) would suggest that some seri- 
ous attempts are made in this direction but that, since 
for a nomad to pull up stakes and move to another open 
group involves no very heavy investment loss, usually 
one protagonist pursues a strategy of avoidance rather 
than immediate reconciliation. In the more complex 
egalitarian societies, including clan-based territorial 
ones that stimulate male lethal aggressiveness by war- 
rior socialization and training, forceful control of inter- 
nal conflict by high-ranking males is still preempted by 
egalitarian behavior. But in many of these feuding socie- 
ties (e.g., von Fiirer-Haimendorf 1967, Boehm 1984^3) in- 
stitutionalized types of noncoercive conflict manage- 
ment can become quite effective, even in the absence of 
any really authoritative human agency. 

Thus it would appear that when Knauft's prehistoric 
simple foraging nomads became settled, an already high 
group-internal homicide rate came under more immedi- 
ate control. This took place as territorial behavior be- 
came more developed, groups became more bounded, 
and adjacent groups came to have more to fight about 
and therefore began to train warriors. When inevitably 

412 I CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Volume 32, Number 4, August- October 1991 

the warriors quarreled among themselves and threat- 
ened to divide the group and make it vulnerable, people 
coped with this perceived threat. Their mode of inter- 
vention was not a strong, chimpanzee-gorilla style of 
leadership (even though we know from what happened 
later with kingdoms and states that the potential for 
that was still strong in the species) but the creation of 
cultural rules and institutions that regulated but realis- 
tically did not try to suppress entirely the homicidal 
self-expression of individuals. 

A fascinating problem for future exploration is how 
the vigilantly egalitarian dominance behavior of follow- 
ers described above was ''disarmed'' during the transi- 
tion to kingdoms and states. State-formation theory will 
be incomplete until this important political element, in- 
volving both genotypic dispositions and purposive cul- 
tural selection, is taken directly into account. 

Knauft has taken a very important first step in differ- 
entiating simple from complex foragers and has con- 
vinced me that the simple foraging society, with its sig- 
nificant political differences from other egalitarian 
societies, is the appropriate model for earlier prehistoric 
''triangulation.'' Another necessary ingredient of a more 
effective approach would be a move away from the 
overly mechanistic functional frameworks that have 
served anthropology rather well over the past century 
and a more aggressive search for documented instances 
in which the deliberate kind of ''strategizing'' shapes 
evolutionary outcomes (see Boehm 1978, Vayda 1989). 
I believe that one of the first such instances was the 
emergence of control of leaders by followers instead of 
vice versa. This was the beginning of Knauft's simple 
foraging society — surely, as he says, the longest-lasting 
social form invented by humans. 


Departments of American Studies and 
Anthropology, State University of New York/ 
University at Buffalo, Amherst, N.Y. 14260, U.S.A. 
20 III 91 

As usual, Knauft's theories and speculations are clear, 
cogent, and stimulating. His argument that ''culture'' 
potentiates an evolutionary mechanism of group selec- 
tion is attractive. His assertion that competitive male 
dominance hierarchies among people are analogous but 
not homologous to those found among other anthro- 
poids is precise and, given his evidence, inarguable. 

Native Australians constitute an exception that tests 
his characterizations of "simple human societies." I am 
completely ignorant of the prehistory or ethnography of 
the area. Still, along the path that the ancestors of native 
Australians probably took lies New Guinea, a huge is- 
land so extraordinarily rich (e.g., in carbohydrates from 
taro and sago) that native foragers using simple stone 
tools (Townsend 1969) routinely formed settled commu- 
nities of considerable complexity (e.g., Ellen 1988; 
Townsend 1974, 1977, 1990; cf. Langub 1988). The in- 
fluence of social evolutionary theory has obscured the 
fact that its founders saved a space, albeit secondary, for 

"degeneration theory," the idea that some societies are 
in some ways less "advanced" than their ancestors in 
social evolutionary terms (e.g., Tylor 1958 [i87i]:4i- 
48). Foragers moving from a relatively rich into a rela- 
tively harsh habitat might change their foraging strate- 
gies faster than their ideologies, particularly those 
ideologies involved with religion, which is often subject 
to "cultural lag." Shifts in foraging strategy due to new 
circumstances are not rare cross-culturally (e.g.. Head- 
land 1988, 1990; Townsend 1990). Perhaps part of the 
complexity of native Australian culture grew out of a 
more complex form of social organization adapted to 
richer surroundings. 

It is important to remember that, in talking of social 
evolution, Knauft is particularly interested in a supposed 
sequence of adaptations. His article would be stronger, 
as he indicates in a couple of places, if he had focussed 
more on culture as an adaptation and less on culture 
as a factitiously static stage in an implicitly unilinear 
scheme. The foregoing speculation about native Austra- 
lians, whatever its worth, exemplifies a focus on adapta- 
tion rather than evolution. My concern with this matter 
stems from my belief that patterns similar to those 
Knauft attributes to simple human societies may de- 
velop as adaptations to a number of other environments, 
for example, slaving (Dentan n.d.a] or religious en- 
clavement (Dentan n.d.b). There are differences: "nega- 
tive peace" rather than the "positive peace" that Knauft 
discusses tends to be salient among people who flee slav- 
ers (for this distinction, see Sponsel 1989:29-30; Ste- 
phenson 1990:5), and child rearing by enclaved religious 
communities tends to be harsh. But Knauft's supposed 
evolutionary sequence is difficult to demonstrate arche- 
ologically, and the emphasis on social evolution (i) ob- 
scures similarities in adaptation that might be enlight- 
ening, (2) could foster erroneous despair about the 
possibility of recreating the admirable qualities of "sim- 
ple human societies," such as egalitarianism and love of 
peace (e.g., Denich 1987), and (3) can lead to the stereo- 
typing of peoples as "harmless" or "fierce" on the basis 
of observations limited to particular times and places. 

Knauft's admirable philosophical achievement in this 
article is to free Darwinism from the Social Darwinist 
scientism that has recently cloaked it (e.g., Daly and 
Wilson 1991). Since human egalitarianism and peace- 
ability are social facts as real as human hierarchies and 
violence, any theory that purports to explain the latter 
should explain the former as well, not just dismiss them 
as epiphenomenal or "reaction formation" (cf. Robar- 
chek 1991). A politically neutral Darwinism that ac- 
cepts the fact of cultural adaptation should prove a pow- 
erful intellectual tool. 


18 Worthington St., Boston, Mass. 02120, U.S.A. 
15 IV 91 

Humans evolved in groups of about 25 + or so, although 
in very favorable situations considerably larger groups 
might have been possible. Notwithstanding the cultural 

KNAUFT Violence and Sociality in Human Evolution \ 413 

changes of the last 12,000 years, the optimal number of 
fellow humans with whom we can be really intimate 
has not changed. I am generally in agreement with 
Knauft's argument; unfortunately, our really good exam- 
ples of simple foragers (!Kung, Shoshone, Eskimo, Aus- 
tralian Aborigines, et al.) are ecological oddities, but one 
works with the data one has! 

As Knauft implies, the evolution of the interface be- 
tween human sociality and the capacity for violence (in- 
cluding the reptilian-mammalian-primate baggage 
which we still carry) must be analytically separated 
from what humans fight about. Simple foragers (and all 
humans) contend over access to sexual partners, 
breaches of norms of reciprocity, and possibly some 
types of incorporeal property. Conflict over corporeal 
property, territory, and political office is very recent. 

The term ''violence,'' in both academic and common 
usage, can be a trap for the unwary. At least five mean- 
ings may be identified in English usage: (i) any agonistic 
conduct, (2) any agonistic conduct resulting in injury, (3) 
any conduct intended to cause injury, (4) in the classic 
Marxian sense, the use of tools as a means of social dom- 
ination, and (5) culturally disapproved conduct, as when 
we describe disapproved police conduct as "violent" but 
not routine police activities (see Wolff 1971). 

This last use of the term is particularly troublesome 
in the analysis of simple societies in that Westerners 
since the Renaissance have increasingly regarded indi- 
vidual violence as "irrational," leaving "rational" vio- 
lence to the mysteries of the state. But in prestate socie- 
ties, an opposition of "reason" to "violence" surely 
makes no sense. Humans can, and very often do, ratio- 
nally use violence to achieve individual and group goals. 
Indeed, the rational use of violence in any simple face- 
to-face society more often than not involves feigning the 
running-amok "reptilian" conduct that Knauft describes 
(see Kiefer [1972] for one of many ethnographic exam- 
ples). For most mammals and all higher primates, ago- 
nistic behavior can be playful: humans are certainly the 
most playful primates of all. But to feign agonistic con- 
duct playfully presupposes that others recognize the 
"real thing" as a capacity in themselves. 

Knauft argues — correctly, I think — that violence in 
simple human societies was generally dysfunctional for 
both the society and the individual: population densities 
were small, and "picking up one's marbles and leaving" 
was the efficient way of dealing with hostility. However, 
the capacity for "reptilian" violence, whether maladap- 
tive, adaptive, or whatever, did in fact persist. I suspect 
that one of the reasons was precisely that the playful 
feigning of agonistic conduct makes such great social 
drama and, provided that it is subject to self-control, 
indeed contributes to social solidarity in the long run. 

Self-control is absolutely crucial, and it presupposes a 
self. In saying that each human has a "self" I mean only 
what George Mead (1934) meant: that one can act to- 
ward oneself as if one were an other. The evolution of 
this capacity is critical to the cortical control of vio- 
lence. Being able to act toward oneself (and imagination 
is an act) has at least two significant consequences for 
human socialitv. First, it enables humans to project 

long-range intentional self-interested strategies. Second, 
without it no "morality" — at least as we would recog- 
nize it — would be possible. Knauft rightly emphasizes 
that in simple societies there is a tension between the 
force of cultural norms and individual desire to break 
them. I would argue that this tension is intrinsic to the 
human condition as a self-conscious animal and is pecu- 
liar to simple foraging societies only in the sense that it 
evolved there. Mead (1934) stressed the importance of 
fully developed human language in the evolution of the 
capacity for self, but all recent studies of apes have 
shown that this is outdated. Some degree of "proto-self- 
control" and a high degree of ability to predict others' 
(and presumably one's own) intentions is deeply rooted 
in our primate past (Jolly 1985:400). 

In my view, the relationship between the evolution of 
human violence and sociality is mediated by the gradual 
perfection of the capacity for self-control, which was 
highly adaptive in many ways. As Knauft implies, it is 
probable that, in the very long period between the emer- 
gence of (normative?) food sharing and 12,000 b.p. or so, 
most interpersonal violence (and feigning thereof) in- 
volved sexual conflict, and access to women may have 
been one important factor. Ambivalence over sexual 
self-interest and cooperative group life was plausibly one 
adaptive function of self-control, particularly if losing 
self-control did not win the woman and might easily 
lead to exile or death. 


Department of Anthropology, State University of New 
York at Buffalo, Buffalo, N.Y. 14261, U.S.A. 27 iii 91 

Knauft's "typological" mode of presentation creates an 
apparent homogeneity that is not supported by the data. 
One receives the impression that most intragroup vio- 
lence is related to "male sexual disputes over women," 
that "feuding or warfare does not appear pronounced," 
and that "strong emphasis is placed on cooperative soci- 
ality." Rather than draw his support from only a few 
examples, usually the IKung, Mbuti, or Inuit, it would 
have been methodologically preferable for him to have 
utilized the subsample of 39 societies drawn from the 
Atlas of World Cultures — coding these societies for key 
variables such as brawling, homicide, capital punish- 
ment, feuding, and warfare. 

I believe that the alleged similarity of simple human 
societies would disappear if Knauft made a genuine ef- 
fort to look for differences. In my comment upon his 
previous article I pointed out (1987:485) that the fre- 
quencies of each form of violence vary from society to 
society and offered a theory to explain the variation (see 
also Otterbein 1988). 

Variation also exists in the frequency of warfare. 
Knauft's 39-society subsample greatly overlaps a sample 
of hunter-gatherers utilized by Ember (1975, 1978). The 
similarity of selection criteria insures that many socie- 
ties must appear in both samples. Ember obtained 
frequency-of-warfare ratings for many of the societies, 
in her sample. Using this sample and her codes in a 

414 I c 

URRENT ANTHROPOLOGY VoluHie 32, Nuuihei 4, August—Octobei 199 1 

cross-cultural study relating dependence on hunting to 
warfare frequency (Otterbein 1989), I have found that 
the greater the dependence upon hunting, the greater the 
frequency of warfare (i = +.45, p < .01). I was able to 
perform this analysis because of the great variability in 
warfare frequency; in a sample of 3 1 societies, the num- 
ber of societies for each point on the variable is 6, 4, 6, 
4, 2, 2, 4, and 2. 


Apartado 464, 68000 Oaxaca, Oax,, Mexico, 5 iv 91 

Visiting Mexico to explain the journal he was to launch 
the following year (current anthropology), Sol Tax 
mentioned in 1959 while chatting with Ignacio Bernal 
that the paradise myth probably referred to vague mem- 
ories of preagricultural times, before the appearance of 
war. The idea stayed with me. In 1968, with violence 
breaking out in France, Mexico, and elsewhere, I was in 
a Valley of Oaxaca Zapotec community whose people 
boasted of not having, in contrast with their neighbors, 
a local problem of interpersonal violence. Skeptical, I 
checked and later with the aid of others documented an 
astonishing difference. Homicide rates were high in 
most Oaxaca villages but almost incredibly low in some, 
though they lacked police, courts, or prisons (Paddock 
1974, 1975, 1976a, b, 1979^, b, 1980). Evolution does 
not begin with the great apes. The antiviolent tendency 
we documented with statistics and observations in vil- 
lages apparently like their violent neighbors might re- 
late, then, to the near absence of violence in pre-primate 
species, even more ancestral than the violence among 
the great apes. 

Among the several hundred references Knauft lists 
there is no citation of the journal Aggressive Behavior, 
organ of the International Society for Research on Ag- 
gression, though works by several members of the Soci- 
ety do appear. This might be because that journal tends 
to publish on extremes — laboratory animals (psycholo- 
gists) and urban-industrial communities (sociologists, 
anthropologists) — while Knauft's area is intermediate. 

Having personal experience only with Zapotec Indian 
villages in far southern Mexico, I am stimulated by the 
observations that Knauft makes about simple and 
middle-range societies, for traits of both classes are sig- 
nificant in these villages (which of course do not fit into 
either). In pre-Hispanic times they were much like 
''peasant'' communities, and the Spanish conquest in- 
troduced some European ideas without changing their 
status as rural producers for urban consumers. However, 
Mexican independence and modernization have invali- 
dated the "peasant" status even for many almost purely 
American Indian communities when they participate in 
urban life to the degree that Valley of Oaxaca villagers 
now do. 

Our research showed nearly incredible differences in 
homicide rates between villages that are closely similar 
with respect to the commonly ascribed "causes" of vio- 
lence such as alcohol, sexual access, boundary quarrels. 

crowding, poverty, and political ambition. The crucial 
difference, we found, was local consensus on the desir- 
ability of living without interpersonal violence. While 
we did not locate the origin of the phenomenon, a recent 
case may help. A Oaxaca village far from the central 
valleys we studied once had one of the highest internal 
homicide rates in the world, but the women rebelled 
and banned alcohol, arms, and violence (Greenberg 
1989:230-34; Paddock 1990). Our antiviolent villages 
do not forbid alcohol and in fact often use it to excess, 
but they have traditions of antiviolence that are thor- 
oughly established, perhaps centuries old. (The term 
"antiviolent" was applied here because these commu- 
nities are not totally successful in preventing inter- 
personal violence, hence "nonviolent" would be too 

Ranking does exist in our antiviolent villages, but it 
is controlled and diffused. Official posts are assigned to 
all adult males by turns, though assignment of power to 
elders is separate and there is also unofficial ranking. 
Such villages are part of a larger society and are assigned 
low ranks within it, but they are also social units, com- 
munities with individual characters of which they are 
proud. More remote communities, and groupings of 
them, are nearly complete societies in themselves, al- 
most lacking participation in state and national soci- 

Hawaiian ho'oponopono (Shook 1985) also seems not 
to fit either of Knauft's classes or in some ways to fit 
both, though it shares some traits with Valley Zapotec 
villages practicing antiviolence. It is an effective device 
for conflict resolution but in a society marked by male 
ranking and, apparently, intercommunity violence as 
well as intracommunity antiviolence. (Interestingly, ur- 
ban social workers are finding it effective among non- 

The humanity of scientists is often ignored; Knauft is 
to be commended for finding ways to compensate for it. 
Born and socialized in large societies with high rates 
of external homicide (i.e., war), archeologists commonly 
attribute similar orientations to ancient societies while 
ignoring evidence of other sorts, on the apparent as- 
sumption that war making is an inescapable human 
trait. Shocked by personal experience in violent Oaxaca 
societies, ethnographers may simply deny the reality of 
Oaxaca antiviolence, abundantly documented though it 
is (Paddock 1988, 1990). 

The vast majority of humanity now lives neither in 
simple nor in middle-range societies. Therefore it would 
be helpful to see a proposal for classifying the societies 
Knauft has prudently avoided, even though that will be 
difficult and controversial. 


Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan, 
Ann Arbor, Mich. 48109, U.S.A. 18 iv 91 

This paper demonstrates what anthropology can do in 
the 1990s if the resources of its various subdisciplines 

KNAUFT Violence and Sociality in Human Evolution | 415 

are brought to bear on the one problem that unites the 
field: human social evolution. In synthesizing findings 
of primatology, archeology, and ethnology, Knauft 
brings new respectability to general or philosophical 
anthropology — the only kind of anthropology that may 
yet save the field from its own centrifugal forces. 

While I am sympathetic, then, with Knauft 's general 
aims and admire the range of data he has marshalled to 
press his case, there seems to me another interpretation 
of those data that he does not adequately consider. His 
own view is that the distinctive social patterns of ethno- 
graphically known simple foragers demonstrate that hu- 
man social evolution is ''U-shaped,'' with great-ape soci- 
eties ironically resembling groups of complex foragers 
and food producers more than they do simple foraging 
societies. While such a U-shaped trajectory is of course 
possible, the irony itself points to the alternative inter- 
pretation: simple foraging societies as known from the 
ethnographic record may not be representative of such 
societies in the Pleistocene and may in fact be radically 
different, precisely because they have adapted to mar- 
ginal areas outside the main currents of human social 
evolution. Although Knauft notes that "highly decen- 
tralized" foragers are likely to be "underrepresented in 
the archeological record," he does not mention that they 
are also probably oyerrepresented in the ethnographic 
record compared with less marginal foragers who pre- 
sumably evolved into or were assimilated by food pro- 
ducers. This familiar caveat about extant hun- 
ter-gatherers is perhaps best illustrated by Gellner's 
(1988:36) striking analogy: 

Let us suppose that in the twenty-second century 
the world is fully industrialized, but that somewhere 
near Yasnaya Polyana, or in the English shires, a few 
communities of Tolstoyans or William Morris en- 
thusiasts survive, firmly rejecting the values and 
practices of the surrounding world, and perpetuating 
the lives of muzhiks or of English medieval crafts- 
men, or what they fondly imagine to be such. How 
justified would a twenty-second-century anthropolo- 
gist be in studying such communities, and on this 
basis reconstructing a general model of the agrarian 
world as it truly was? 

If modern foragers are indeed "fringe groups from the 
Stone Age," perhaps the best we can do is try to recon- 
struct the central habitats of that age so that, by combin- 
ing this information with what we know about modern 
foragers (and perhaps nonhuman primates as well), we 
can retrodict how typical Pleistocene foragers might 
have lived. 

Knauft's own reasoning suggests a way to begin such 
a reconstruction. Following Foley (1989), he notes that 
"in the social organization of the common ancestor of 
apes and humans, a tension could plausibly have existed 
between chimpanzee-like patterns of male philopatry 
and selective pressures for more open, dispersed, and 
flexible alliances." With the evolution of Homo and the 
elaboration of cultural transmission, Knauft argues, the 
pattern of social organization "turned decisively away 

from male philopatry and closed fraternal interest group- 
ings and toward more open and more flexible social net- 
works." Then, with intensified production and the es- 
tablishment of "stable and valuable resource bases," 
human social organization reverted, in his view, to the 
chimpanzee-like pattern. 

Now, there are two points to be made here. First, even 
if we accept simple foragers in the ethnographic record 
as models for those of the Pleistocene, the very fact that 
humans all over the world consistently shifted, with the 
transition to more intensive foraging and food produc- 
tion, from their open flexible groupings to the atavistic 
pattern of relatively closed male-bonded groups suggests 
that the tension between these two poles was not deci- 
sively resolved with the evolution of Homo. It tribal and 
chiefly societies all over the world spontaneously "rein- 
vented" a pattern of social organization resembling that 
of chimpanzees, the most reasonable explanation may 
be that this pattern survived in the human social reper- 
toire from the common ancestor of humans and African 
apes and was only dormant through the long period of 
simple foraging bands. 

Second, this pattern may not have been dormant at 
all. Relatively closed fraternal interest groups are pre- 
sumably formed by both chimpanzees and humans to 
defend concentrations of resources which generally do 
not exist in extant populations of simple foragers. In 
the human case, such concentrations are now artificially 
generated through food production, but in the Pleisto- 
cene they must have occurred naturally in at least some 
human habitats, just as they do in chimpanzee habitats. 
And if humans consistently jump at the opportunity to 
defend artificial concentrations of resources by forming 
fraternal interest groups, there seems little doubt that 
they would have done the same thing wherever natural 
concentrations occurred. The picture that emerges has 
the common ancestor of humans and African apes living 
in relatively closed, male-philopatric groups, then 
spreading out from central areas where resources were 
concentrated into marginal habitats where resources 
were dispersed. In these marginal areas, the open, flexi- 
ble groupings characteristic of extant hunter-gatherers 
would have emerged, but in the central areas even sim- 
ple foragers would have remained in relatively closed, 
male-philopatric communities. Eventually these would 
have been transformed smoothly into patrilocal tribal 
societies, with no intervening stage of flexible social or- 
ganization. The U -shape of human social evolution pro- 
posed by Knauft would be an illusion created by casting 
an adaptation to extreme conditions as a global evolu- 
tionary stage. 

While such a scenario deserves more attention than 
Knauft gives it, human residence patterns may be beside 
the point anyway if one's ultimate aim is to understand 
patterns of social relationships. In contrast to nonhu- 
man primates, in which philopatry, consanguinity, and 
cooperation tend to coincide, humans display dispersal 
patterns that predict patterns of kinship and cooperation 
only weakly, if at all (Rodseth et al. 1991). In this sense, 
my colleagues and I are stressing "the distinctive open- 

4i6 I CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY VoluHie 32, Nuuihei 4, August-Octobei 1991 

ness of human social networks/' but this openness re- 
fers to patterns of social relationships independent of 
spatial proximity, making it conceptually distinct from 
the ''open" residence patterns Knauft attributes to sim- 
ple foragers. 

Thus, leaving aside the issue of flexible versus patrilo- 
cal residence, we might ask with regard to Knauft's sim- 
ple foragers whether men are permanently cut off from 
their close male kin in the way that most male primates 
are when they migrate to other groups. The answer, to 
my knowledge, is no. In fact, men usually maintain cru- 
cial alliances with their natal kin whether they reside 
with them or not. The fact that these alliances do not 
always constitute ''fraternal interest groups'' in the con- 
ventional sense is irrelevant, since such groups are con- 
ventionally defined in part by patrilocal residence. 
Whatever their residence patterns, it may be argued, hu- 
mans are very generally if not universally "male- 
bonded." (Women of course also tend to maintain rela- 
tionships with natal kin but are not "female-bonded" 
in that they seldom form alliances with each other for 
purposes of aggression against members of their own sex 
[Rodseth et al. 1991].) Even matrilocality, which dis- 
perses male kin at the level of the household or "neigh- 
borhood," tends to reassemble them at the level of the 
community or tribe, especially for purposes of long- 
distance warfare against unrelated groups (Rodseth et al. 
1 991). This is why we describe matrilocality as a case of 
"agnatic sprawl," with the whole network of intermar- 
rying households often acting as one large "fraternal in- 
terest group" — not because brothers reside together, of 
course, but because the community or tribe as a whole 
constitutes a "power group of related males" (Otterbein 
and Otterbein 1965:1472). 



Atlanta, Ga., U.S.A. 2 i 91 

There is a great need for testable models of the relation- 
ship between cultural and biogenetic selection in spe- 
cific periods of human evolution. My paper is but a 
rough initial effort in this direction, and even then it 
approaches human evolutionary theory through the top- 
ical "back door" of violence and sociality. I hope that 
further commentary on both my paper and those of Rod- 
seth et al. (1991) and Manson and Wrangham (1991) will 
stimulate a richer consideration of human evolutionary 
theory as well as of the developmental trajectories of 
human violence and sociality per se. 

Acknowledgment should be made of Boehm's inde- 
pendent prior assessment (1984:12) that "social and po- 
litical hierarchy is strong particularly in the other terres- 
trial primates with which we like to compare ourselves, 
and it is strong with us, too, after we centralized our 
polities and economies to form states,- however, it is 

virtually absent in the critical transitional form of hunt- 
ers or hunters and gatherers" and his further assessment 
(p. 13) that "culture acquires . . . force precisely at the 
point that a moral community is formed — a face-to-face 
community of individually self-conscious individuals 
who, through verbal symbolic communication, reach 
the point that they understand their common identity 
in terms of a common self-interest." As have I, Boehm 
has suggested the plausible association of this process 
with the development of elaborate protolanguage, cul- 
tural transmission, and rule-influenced behavior in hu- 
man evolution as early as H. erectus (e.g., Boehm 
1982:417). He has also given more attention than I to 
the parasitic selection (and even group selection) that 
might operate prior to the development of widespread 
cultural transmission. In his view, these patterns pre- 
adapt primate conflict interference for subsequent devel- 
opment into human patterns of culturally mediated con- 
flict management (Boehm 1981). 

Boehm is correct to criticize my paper for not giving 
sufficient attention to informal conflict mediation tech- 
niques in simple human societies (e.g., Briggs 1970; 
Marshall 1976; TurnbuU 1961, 1982; see Knauft 1987^3: 
376). The question of how these societies maintain "re- 
verse dominance hierarchies" is correspondingly criti- 
cal. Boehm's query goes well beyond the misplaced criti- 
cism of sociobiologists that since at least some 
inequalities of skill, leadership ability, and number of 
offspring exist in simple societies, these must function 
collectively to foster the reproductive success of domi- 
nant, aggressive leaders. Such inequities are both cultur- 
ally and self-consciously minimized in these societies. 
Perhaps more important, they tend not to "line up" in 
a mutually supportive way: aggression, material ag- 
grandizement, dominant leadership, and reproductive 
success do not coalesce as a Darwinian set. As Boehm 
suggests, it will be crucial to explore how various ine- 
qualities are culturally precluded from coalescing and 
under what conditions they begin to coalesce as more 
formalized and centralized leadership forms develop. 

Boehm (cf. particularly 1981) alludes to the possibility 
of culturally mediated group selection,- my own analysis 
places much greater emphasis on this factor. It seems to 
me that the high costs of altruistic behavior in both sex- 
ual restraint and conflict mediation render it unlikely 
to be selected for systematically in humans through par- 
asitic selection or noncultural interdemic group selec- 
tion alone (cf. Wilson 1980). That cultural transmission 
competes with biogenetic transmission in influencing 
behavior dovetails with Boehm's (1989) suggestion, im- 
plicit also in Kief er's comment here, that human nature 
is better analyzed as a series of "universal dilemmas" — a 
distinctive set of competing behavioral impetuses — 
than as a series of single universal traits or motivational 
continuities. The primary competition is, in my view, 
between Darwinian propensities toward maximal bioge- 
netic propagation and cultural propensities toward ide- 
ational transmission and dissemination. 

Rodseth's suggestion that I am not sensitive enough 
to the contextual factors influencing qurrent hunter- 

KNAUFT Violence and Sociality in Human Evolution \ 417 

gatherer variants is arguably more applicable to his own 
article than to mine: while developmental variation of 
social organization in the course of human evolution 
is foregrounded in my model, his ultimately collapses 
human variation into a single aggregate type. There have 
certainly been decisive changes in social organization, 
as in fertility and mortality, in the course of human evo- 
lution, viz., with the Neolithic and industrial revolu- 
tions. I suggest that the human revolution, with the 
emergence of symbolic culture in Homo, is at least as 
momentous as the advent of agriculture or industry in 
changing patterns of social organization. If assessed crit- 
ically in the context of known historical trends, the eth- 
nographic record of simple societies can help illuminate 
the selective parameters of this earlier revolution. 

Human socioecology as it developed in the course of 
human evolution is in many ways consistent with that 
of simple societies documented in this century: both are 
characterized by large home ranges, dispersed, patchy 
resources, omnivory, and high mobility. The striking 
human trajectory from H. eiectus until quite recently 
has been, as Rodseth would appear to concede, one of 
expansion into environments that were at the outset 
marginal. As Sahlins (1972) suggests, the prevailing eco- 
nomic tendency in simple societies is to minimize both 
labor and food surplus and to keep yields well below 
environmental limits. The low-intensity human ecology 
and the patterns of sociality and violence associated 
with simple societies are likely to have been quite com- 
mon in human evolutionary history. Much has been 
made of archeological evidence of complex hunter- 
gatherer societies (particularly in Europe) in the late Pa- 
leolithic and Mesolithic, and a few resource-rich areas 
could have spawned complex hunter-gatherers yet ear- 
lier. When the evolution of Homo is considered as a 
whole and on a global scale, however, a nonintensive 
forager model is far more appropriate than one based on 
complex hunter-gatherers. 

Rodseth's apparent recognition that male residence, 
bonding, and alliance in simple societies are frequently 
affinal and even Active as well as patrifiliative tends to 
dissolve his lingering sociobiological assumption that 
human males coalesce predominantly in fraternal inter- 
est groups, i.e., in ''power groups of related males." As 
I have shown, the cross-cultural evidence strongly dis- 
confirms this suggestion. In most simple societies the 
effective social group is a bilateral band and not a dis- 
persed group of closely related agnates. 

Betzig's comments contains several serious misunder- 
standings and echo the kind of unsophisticated sociobi- 
ology so effectively critiqued by Kitcher (1985). Most 
curious is her opening claim that my article is predi- 
cated on showing that ''culture is keeping Gebusi from 
behaving adaptively'' when the word "Gebusi'' never 
even appears in it. I do not suggest that culture in simple 
societies is generally maladaptive or that "culture tri- 
umphs over nature." I stress that culture is group- 
adaptive, that the tension between cultural and bioge- 
netic selection is never resolved, and that biogenetic 
propensities for fitness maximization continue to be 

acted out. At the same time I argue that these propensi- 
ties are crosscut by symbolically externalized and psy- 
chologically internalized cultural rules. ^ By failing to 
give sufficient attention to this dimension of my work, 
Betzig reads my suggestions about middle-range socie- 
ties as an admission that polygyny is almost universal 
among their leaders and that dominance and violence 
are almost invariably related to reproductive success. 
These are claims I do not make. Despite the increased 
incidence of polygyny as a leadership prerogative in New 
World middle-range societies, a majority of these socie- 
ties (31/5 1; 61%) still lack this prerogative (Feinman and 
Neitzel 1984:58-59). Aggression and reproductive suc- 
cess are not invariably associated in these societies (see, 
e.g., Moore 1990), and any such association as exists 
may represent sociocultural correlation rather than so- 
ciobiological causation. Finally, that Betzig is able to 
cite a few cases of polygyny in simple societies does not 
contravene the empirical trend to the contrary: "Nim- 
koff and Middleton (i960) demonstrated from HRAF 
data long ago that there is a highly significant correla- 
tion between type of family system and subsistence pat- 
tern,- the independent, or monogamous, family is the 
most common in hunting and gathering cultures" (Kin- 
zey 1987:111).^ 

The inappropriateness of asserting homogeneity for 
human societies as a whole and then drawing connec- 
tions between aggregate primate patterns is only in- 
creased by the variations among great apes. A male- 
coalitional model of violence does not fit bonobos, 
orangutans, and gorillas, being characteristic primarily 
of chimpanzees. The persistence of the notion of 
fraternal-interest-group violence in human evolution 
may reflect the disproportionate attention once given to 
models of baboon dominance and aggression as a proto- 
type for human violence. Strum and Mitchell (1987) 
have pointed to the abundant counterevidence about ba- 
boon behavior and social organization that was available 
even in the 1960s. 

Recent considerations of human and ape sexual mor- 
phology (e.g., Nadler and Phoenix 1991) suggest that 

1. It is important to realize that Darwin (1981 [1871]) also suggested 
that collective moral traits, such as sympathy, give human socie- 
ties an important adaptive advantage over groups composed en- 
tirely of self-interested individuals. The possibility of group-level 
adaptation raised by Darwin himself (see especially 1981 [i87i]:72, 
98-104, 164-66) has been curiously neglected by neo-Darwinians. 

2. Betzig's interpretation of Ache hunting and reproductive success 
may also be slanted. Kaplan and Hill (1985:133) found no significant 
difference in the number of certain or estimated total children born 
to good versus poor hunters; they found a difference only in the 
number of illegitimate or "possible" children. I have been informed 
that Ache believe multiple male inseminators to be co-conceivers 
of a single illegitimate child. In light of this, the pressure to desig- 
nate only one of these persons as "the father" to satisfy the etic 
perspective of the ethnographic investigator could introduce sig- 
nificant bias. As Kaplan and Hill themselves point out, the docu- 
mented greater survivorship of children of good hunters may be a 
product of genetically mediated physical robusticity that increases 
both men's hunting skill and the birth weight and survivorship of 
their children. 

4i8 I CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Voluuie 32, Nuuihei 4, August-Octobei 1991 

humans had neither a polygynous mating system simi- 
lar to that of gorillas nor a multimale mating system 
similar to that of chimpanzees. Given the comments of 
Abler concerning my supposed collapsing of human and 
ape ''polygyny/' I reemphasize that the formal similarity 
between some dimensions of ape and middle-range hu- 
man societies is an analogy only. The point is that what 
appear to some behavioral ecologists and sociobiologists 
to be cross -species similarities are in crucial ways quite 
different, and this fact is highlighted by the contrasting 
simple-society patterns. The evolutionary trajectory of 
violence that I propose does not suggest that patterns of 
leadership and mating in middle-range societies can be 
explained in any simple way by sociobiological princi- 
ples, and indeed it argues against that notion. 

The cogent comments of Abler, Dentan, Paddock, and 
Kiefer lead me to reemphasize that the enormous varia- 
tion in middle-range societies is collapsed here only for 
the sake of broader comparison. Post-state development 
is outside my purview, which is dauntingly broad as it is 
(cf. Paddock, Abler). I have confronted variation among 
middle-range societies in the Melanesian context (e.g., 
Knauft 1985:339-48; 1989b, 1990c) and with respect 
to warfare (i99ofo). My awareness of this ethnographic 
complexity is one reason I make little attempt to differ- 
entiate sociodevelopmental patterns within this cate- 
gory. Comparative patterns of socioeconomic and politi- 
cal variation in small-scale sedentary societies are well 
addressed by Feinman and Neitzel (1984) and Upham 
(1990^), and systematic studies of prestate warfare have 
iDeen made by Otterbein (1985) and Ross (1985, 1986). 
I have no argument at all with Abler's and Paddock's 
assessments that relatively nonviolent middle-range so- 
cieties exist and that matriliny may be present and fra- 
ternal interest groups absent. My point is simply that 
middle-range societies in the aggregate exhibit a much 
greater propensity toward fraternal interest grouping, 
ethnocentrism, and collective armed conflict than sim- 
pler ones. 

The purpose of my broader comparison was (a) to inte- 
grate data from diverse fields into a conceptual frame- 
work for the evolutionary study of human violence and 
sociality, (b) to counter evolutionary and biobehavioral 
models that uncritically project nonhuman primate 
tendencies onto humans, and (c) to suggest alternative 
and more sophisticated models that consider cultural as 
well as biosocial dimensions of human evolution. Evolu- 
tionary typologies are by their nature Popperian in func- 
tion, serving as a lightning rod for counterexamples and 
refutation. An analysis on a broad scale elicits counter- 
examples at a more detailed level. 

One of the drawbacks of evolutionary typologies such 
as mine is their neglect of complex evolutionary coun- 
tercurrents, including devolution. I admit that a number 
of sedentary societies may exhibit egalitarian forms of 
social organization, particularly under conditions of ex- 
ternal oppression (Abler, Dentan). This point has been 
made particularly forcefully by Jayawardena (1963, 1968; 
see Bern 1987). My argument encompasses this develop- 
ment not in evolutionary terms but in structural ones: 

whatever the socioecological or historical pattern of 
their development, simple societies are likely to evi- 
dence a relative lack of fraternal interest groups, warfare, 
blood feuds, and raiding. Conversely, hunter-gatherers 
exhibiting significant male political-status differentia- 
tion, such as selected Australian Aborigine groups, may 
be expected to have a greater incidence of collective vio- 
lence and warfare than more decentralized societies in- 
habiting similar environments. Thus developmental 
correspondences are not uniform in each case but are 
evident in aggregate evolutionary trends: most societies 
of the period between 1,500,000 b.p. and 13,000 b.p. are 
likely to have been closer to the ''simple'' end of the 
continuum. By contrast, most sedentary societies are, 
through both endogenous and exogenous processes, 
likely to be closer to the "complex" end. Isolated cases 
to the contrary do not invalidate the model; what would 
falsify it is many cases of politically decentralized sim- 
ple societies with a high incidence of warfare, blood 
feuds, and raiding. 

Abler's suggestion that warfare in rniddle-range socie- 
ties can in large part be accounted for as a function of 
Western encroachment deserves particular consider- 
ation. This argument (which has been strongly made 
as well by Blick [1988], Ferguson [1990], and Ferguson 
and Whitehead [n.d.]) is the first step toward a more his- 
torically sensitive understanding of the relationship be- 
tween colonial and precolonial patterns of violence and 
warfare. There is no question but that Western en- 
croachment has transformed, redirected, and in some 
cases intensified indigenous conflict; the introduction 
of guns and the coopting of indigenous forces in the ser- 
vice of colonial military objectives are well documented 
from numerous parts of the world. It is erroneous, how- 
ever, to assume that intense collective violence was ab- 
sent aboriginally or that the homicides involved in in- 
digenous warfare were demographically insignificant. 
Precolonial warfare among middle-range societies was, 
as I have pointed out, strongly evident in native North 
America, South America, Africa, and Melanesia. The 
Melanesian cases are particularly dramatic and well doc- 
umented (see review in Knauft 1990b and also Shank- 
man 1 991), and archeological evidence suggests similar 
patterns in the New World (e.g., Haas 1990). 

Otterbein's finding that extreme dependence on hunt- 
ing may be associated with warfare is interesting and, 
in terms of my analysis, expectable. A large proportion 
of the societies in Ember's (1978) hunter-gatherer sam- 
ple, upon which Otterbein's analysis is based, are eques- 
trian or fishing societies, both of which may be predicted 
to have greater frequencies of warfare than simple socie- 
ties. Equestrianism in particular is often linked with 
strong dependence on hunting. Ember's sample is heavi- 
ly weighted toward North America, where the Western 
introduction of the horse and of fur trading had a pro- 
found impact; this geographic pattern may itself be sig- 
nificant in explaining the range of variation that Ot- 
terbein finds. Finally, as I have noted with respect to 
intensive big-game hunters of prehistoric periglacial 
Eurasia, socioecological factors that inqrease the con- 

KNAUFT Violence and Sociality in Human Evolution \ 419 

centration of large-scale resources and make them easily 
exploitable with available technology can be expected 
to potentiate sociopolitical complexity. When such fac- 
tors are not pronounced — and I suggest that they have 
not been for most of human evolution — the simple- 
society pattern is likely to be particularly applicable. 

I agree with Otterbein that a cross-cultural study of 
the 3 9 -society sample I employed would be an important 
complement to my argument. The nature of state- 
society influences, the historical context, and the types 
of bias must, however, be very carefully weighed in each 
individual case,- the data cannot simply be taken at face 
value. Moreover, the constellation of factors that is most 
useful for evolutionary projection must be carefully de- 
lineated; if one is to avoid the charge that observed sim- 
ple societies are not representative of the past, the simi- 
larities and differences between present and past 
societies on key socioeconomic, ecological, and even an- 
atomical factors must be assessed. In contrast to many 
past approaches, my perspective emphasizes the evolu- 
tionary importance of cultural transmission and group 
selection, suggesting that we cannot adequately under- 
stand social development since the emergence of Homo 
without taking this dynamic into account. 

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For a two-volume annotated bibliography of world the- 
oretical archaeology, reprints and books on theory and 
methods published in the last decade. This decade is 
represented hardly at all not only in my personal col- 
lection but also in the libraries of Leningrad. The 
kindness of colleagues helped me to write my 'Tan- 

orama of Theoretical Archaeology/' published in CA 
in 1977 and updated in Fennoscandia Archaeologica 7 
(1990), and I hope that it will assist me in compiling 
the bibliography that every archaeologist needs. Please 
write: Leo Klejn, Zheleznovodskaja 27, kv. 27, Lenin- 
grad 199 155, U.S.S.R.